Julian Wood

By Julian Wood - 18/02/2020

Julian Wood

By Julian Wood -

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A welcome that works

In the 90’s the regions cried out for workers to pick fruit, plant trees and generally do a range of work they couldn’t find workers for. The solution was to bring in lower skilled people from overseas on temporary work visas. It was a win-win. Labour shortages were eased taxes were paid and money was sent home to families overseas. A key element however, of these early schemes were safeguards put in place to try and minimise migrant exploitation. Jumping forward to today, these temporary labour solutions have exploded into a stock of over 170,000 temporary workers available for work on any one day in New Zealand. Unfortunately many of the costly safeguards that were in place to prevent worker exploitation were lost along the way.

Read Julian’s policy paper:
A Welcome That Works – Changing migration to build our regions

This growth in temporary work visa solutions, while having positives, can also have a range of negative consequences on long-term growth and social cohesion. Firms can and have become reliant on migrant labour. The ready supply of this labour means that investment in higher productivity solutions, stalls in wage growth, and the opportunity for exploitation increasingly becomes part of the way “things are done.” All this makes the occupations and industries even less attractive to local workers. It becomes a self-perpetuating negative cycle requiring ever more visas.

Unfortunately many of the costly safeguards that were in place to prevent worker exploitation were lost along the way.

Alongside this communities underinvest in welcoming and settling the temporary workers in their midst as they know these people will be leaving anyway. Temporary workers also know they will be leaving, and in turn can underinvest in both settling well and in the wider  communities in which they temporarily work. Social cohesion unwinds.

So how do we break this cycle and improve the way we welcome people to contribute to New Zealand? First, we must admit that we are doing ourselves and many of those we invite to come here on repeated short-term work visas a disservice. That’s why we are calling for a freeze on the numbers of repeated short-term work visas as a first step. Second, we need to start addressing the exploitation of temporary migrant workers with real changes. We wouldn’t accept a labour agreement as the “kiwi way” if it gave an employer such power that it tied a New Zealand person to a single employer, but we seem happy to treat many migrants this way. Third, we could let communities have more say in who they would give residence to. Additional points for example could be allocated by a community for someone willing to learn te reo Māori, or for taking part in voluntary community activities.

We need to stop thinking that the repeated use of short term work visas are a great long term solution.

Overall we need to stop thinking that the repeated use of short term work visas are a great long term solution. In our research paper coming out next week, we explore all this and underline that in order to welcome people well and achieve social cohesion both local communities and the migrants they welcome need to be willing to invest in each other for the long haul.

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Julian Wood

By Julian Wood -

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