1 Aug 2023

Charity supporting migrant workers accused of trying to stop them talking to media: 'We would not help you'

10:34 am on 1 August 2023
no caption

Workers from China experiencing unfair treatment by employers have been asked by a charity helping them not to speak to the media (file image). Photo: 123RF

An Auckland-based charity helping exploited Chinese migrant workers is alleged to have threatened to withdraw help if they spoke to media.

CNSST Foundation, also known to the Chinese Community as Hua She Fu (华 社 服基金会 ), offers a range of services to new Asian migrants, and in the last financial year received more than $3 million from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

MSD said it was looking into the allegations and would be speaking to the charity.

Over the past few months, the foundation had helped workers who paid tens of thousands of dollars for their accredited employer work visas, but were fired within days or weeks of arriving.

The organisation was tight-lipped about the assistance it had offered these workers.

It was workers who told RNZ they had received food packs, help to transition to the migrant exploitation protection visa and, in some cases, up to $1000 in financial assistance.

But in May, a staff member from the charity sent a message to a WeChat group of more than 100 workers, stating that it would not help them if they spoke to media.

RNZ has sighted the message.

The CNSST staff member said part of the reason was that speaking out may make the Chinese and New Zealand governments look bad.

"From a higher perspective, this would be a very negative influence on both the New Zealand and Chinese government," the message read.

They also told the workers that they would have their privacy exposed, and that unscrupulous employers would run away or disappear after media exposure.

"If this thing gets big, small employers will get more information, and they will take the money and run, or liquidate, leave the country, once they do that - no government agencies will be able to do anything,

"That will leave you all unable to recover your costs, and it will be useless to take legal measures, ultimately you'll be bearing the consequences of exploitation," they said.

"If you choose the media, we would not help you," the message concluded.

A worker who did not want to be named, said the charity was misleading them.

"It shouldn't be about whether there's gonna be a negative influence (on anyone), not solving the problem is the real negative influence, right? So you can't stop us from speaking just because it will look bad, and then act like everything is OK and everyone is and at peace with each other," he said.

He said he was thankful for the help from CNSST, but felt that he should keep the right to speak up.

"As a charity, you should be on our side and solving problems from the workers' perspective, you shouldn't be stopping us from speaking up."

He said most of the workers felt indebted to the charity for its help, and were not speaking up to avoid causing trouble.

MSD, which had funded the charity since 2001, said it was concerned by the allegations.

A spokesperson said it had serious concerns if a service provider was telling clients not to talk to media, and would be speaking to CNSST.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) had given the charity $50,000 as part of its migrant worker exploitation pilot programme.

MBIE engagement and experience manager Suzanne Boslem said it would not comment on CNSST's practice in this case.

"MBIE will not comment on CNSST's organisational policies and its work on supporting victims of migrant of exploitation," Boslem said.

Jenny Wang

CNSST director Jenny Wang. Photo: RNZ/Liu Chen

CNSST said it could not comment on the staffer's message to workers because it needed to protect its clients' privacy.

Wang said the charity's staff had done a lot of voluntary hours to help the Chinese workers.

"I'd like you to know that to keep the organisation low key and focus on meeting the client and community needs are always our values. So media exposure might not be CNSST Foundation's culture," she said.

RNZ understood that the charity disbanded the WeChat group with Chinese workers shortly after it was approached for this article.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs