8 May 2020

Unemployed migrant workers struggle amid Covid-19 crisis

6:49 am on 8 May 2020

Unemployed migrant workers caught in the cracks amid the Covid-19 crisis say they're still not getting enough help from authorities here or their home countries.

Two builders in yellow and orange at the construction site

File photo. Photo: 123RF

The First Union's Network of Migrants said food parcels were the only assistance those workers could get but that was not a sustainable solution.

Chinese bricklayer Mao Qunyou had been working cash jobs on-and-off in Auckland since his two-year contract ended with a previous employer late last year.

He said it was hard to find a stable job, which meant when Covid-19 shut most businesses down, he was not entitled to claim the government's wage subsidy.

He said he was still owed money for cash jobs before the lockdown and hadn't had an income for weeks.

"I asked the Citizens Advice Bureau. I also phoned the Ministry of Social Development. I thought it would be good if I can get some subsidy because I haven't got any income for such a long time and I have to survive," he said.

Mao said the ministry asked him to talk to the Chinese embassy but that didn't help much either.

"I haven't even finished my words, they told me 'no, no'. Why those 'no, no'? They didn't even try to understand what I was talking about. I haven't even told my story yet. They just said 'no, no'. I said what are you here for overseas? They just hang up on me."

The Chinese embassy said it could work with local community groups to help its citizens in severe financial hardship but also suggested people should look for help from friends and family in China.

Filipino scaffolder Mark Borja had lost his job in Whangārei last month.

"We need to pay for our rent and need to provide food. I have savings, but you know, it's not enough for one month's stay here."

Borja said his young family back home depended on him but he had no money to send back.

He said food parcels were not what he was after and he would like more support to carry him through this difficult time until he finds another job.

"That's why I came here. I need to work. I need my job. I need to support my family."

Mikee Santos, an organiser at the First Union's Network of Migrants, said migrant workers who became unemployed are falling into the cracks.

"They are not citizens to have benefits and they're unemployed to get the wage subsidy," he said.

Santos said it was unfair that social benefits available to New Zealanders are not accessible to migrant workers.

"At the end of the day, we're all workers here, migrant workers and New Zealand workers. Why is that in the time of a crisis, there's a part of New Zealand workforce seems to be marginalised."

Santos said food parcels were not sustainable for migrant workers who are likely to be out of job for months, and more of them might lose their job when the government's wage subsidy ends in June.

He said the best solution was to activate an epidemic provision under the Social Security Act, to give benefits to people who do not normally qualify.

"The section 64 is the exact help we need and it's already there. They just to activate it."

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni was not activating the clause, and said the government was offering support through Civil Defence Emergency Management.

Both the Ministry of Social Development and Civil Defence said unemployed foreign nationals should talk to their embassy or consulate for assistance first.

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