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Auckland labour company accused of migrant exploitation

Author
RNZ,
Publish Date
Wed, 29 Nov 2023, 4:14pm
Photo / 123RF
Photo / 123RF

Auckland labour company accused of migrant exploitation

Author
RNZ,
Publish Date
Wed, 29 Nov 2023, 4:14pm

By RNZ

An Auckland labour-hire company is at the centre of a major immigration investigation, after allegations from migrants who paid thousands for their visa, but received little work.

RNZ understands hundreds of workers had accredited employer work visas (AEWV) and were promised work with Prolink NZ — but some have been left broke and jobless, while others were not working enough hours to get by.

It was the latest scandal following months of reports exposing the sale of visas tied to unreliable or non-existent jobs.

Over the past five months, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has completed 100 investigations, with 103 employers losing accreditation to hire overseas staff.

A Chinese man paid more than $13,000 to Auckland immigration company Everlast Consultancy 2013 Corporation Ltd for a visa and job with Prolink.

The worker, who does not want to be named, claimed he and his wife were promised fulltime work as packers, but since arriving in March he had received on average three days’ work a week, and his wife none.

The worker said Prolink sent him to work at various companies to do packing jobs, but the work was scarce, and for the past couple of months he had had no work.

He has moved onto a migrant exploitation protection visa and was looking for other work.

The worker estimated there were more than 200 struggling couples linked to Prolink in a similar situation — mostly from China and Vietnam.

“Most people are trying their best, either working under the table and getting exploited, or using their savings. Some have gone back already.”

He claimed some were accepting jobs for as little as $8 an hour, just to get by.

The worker recently received an email from a senior INZ compliance investigator, asking about his situation.

It said they had contacted more than 100 migrant workers linked to Prolink to “obtain a clear picture of the experiences of Prolink employees”.

The worker showed RNZ a screenshot of a WeChat group with more than 170 Prolink employees on AEWVs.

A Vietnamese worker asked the group what he should do about the immigration investigator’s request for information — whether to tell the truth, or only part of it.

Meanwhile, Prolink NZ has been taken off Immigration’s online registry of accredited employers, meaning it has either had its accreditation revoked or suspended.

Employment law advocate May Moncur is acting for two offshore Chinese workers, who she said paid more than $20,000 to agents for visas and jobs with Prolink for themselves and their spouses.

But border alerts have been placed on their visas and they were unable to leave China, due to Prolink being under investigation.

Moncur said a New Zealand-based agent and Prolink had not responded since they raised personal grievances in late September.

She said she had also spoken to workers from Prolink who were struggling in New Zealand, but many were reluctant to speak out.

“Some of the workers, at that time ... were living in the accommodation provided by Prolink, or associated with Prolink, and also Prolink still from time to time provides some work to them, I think that’s why they did not want to damage the relationship,” she said.

Moncur said many were also concerned their children’s education in New Zealand would be affected if they reported the matter to INZ.

She said it had been a blow for entire families who had moved over, for what they thought was an opportunity.

“What those workers have been subjected to, financial loss, stress, disruption to their family plans and the family life, the emotional stress suffered not just by the workers but also their loved ones ... all this — we have to deal with it, and New Zealand as a whole — we have to deal with it,” she said.

Prolink refused to comment after several approaches by RNZ.

Everlast Consultancy director Cook Huang, a licensed immigration adviser, said he could not comment due to the ongoing investigation.

“At this point in time, our main position is to keep silent, because the Government will investigate, they’ll investigate everything, right? Perhaps they’ll need us to give a response ... we might need to provide supporting information, or not provide, I don’t know,” he said.

INZ also said it could not comment on active investigations.

It has so far charged two people in AEWV-related investigations — one of whom is a licensed immigration adviser associated with the case of over 140 Indian and Bangladeshi workers living in crowded accommodation.

INZ said of the 100 AEWV investigations completed, 54 required no further action, 20 were referred to its risk and verification unit for further consideration, nine employers were sent education packs, and six cases were referred to the Labour Inspectorate.

INZ said there were still 188 active AEWV-related investigations managed by 35 investigators.

As of last week, more than 560 offshore AEWV holders have been told not to come to New Zealand due to their employer being under investigation — of those, 40 per cent are Chinese citizens.

 

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