PM's attack on NZ workers 'shameful' - Bradford

9:49 am on 6 September 2016

Opinion - Prime Minister John Key used immigration as an excuse to mount a shameful attack on New Zealand workers, writes Sue Bradford

Prime Minister John Key in RNZ's Auckland studio.

Prime Minister John Key in RNZ's Auckland studio. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

John Key cynically used questions around our current high levels of immigration as an excuse to mount a shameful attack on New Zealand workers yesterday.

In a remarkably uninformed comment, he took the prejudiced remarks of some employers at their word when he maligned employees' work ethics.

The Prime Minister is not concerned with evidence. Nor does he display any balance in his remarks.

While disparaging New Zealand workers, Mr Key could have raised the abuse of migrant workers by exploitative employers, as regularly reported from towns and cities across the country. He could have mentioned a 2014 MBIE study of dairy farmers - now major users of migrant labour - which found that three out of four farmers surveyed were not complying with employment law.

Even the Prime Minister admits that there are geographical reasons why New Zealand workers cannot take up some positions.

Yet at the same time he blames a lack of work ethic locally as a reason for the lack of available workers for seasonal harvesting.

There has probably never been a time since the 1930s Depression when there was a sufficiently large, able-bodied workforce waiting in the provincial areas for the crops to ripen.

Of the 69,000 people who have settled here in the last year, comparatively few will have ended up in rural areas. Most will have taken up jobs in the cities and this is where the real damage is being done.

John Key's comments - and his government's laissez-faire immigration policies - set worker against worker while enhancing the ability of business to make larger and larger profits.

The currently high level of unskilled migration panders to employers who want to keep wages low and precarious workers hungry for extra hours.

It is about keeping jobs scarce so that people will accept phoney independent contractor status for carrying out jobs where they should in fact be treated as regular employees. Employer bullying flourishes, ensuring a culture in which people are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their job.

Sue Bradford.

Sue Bradford. Photo: SUPPLIED

John Key admits the high level of migration places strain on infrastructure, but fails to mention that not everybody suffers the same as a result of this strain.

It is low-paid workers, both new migrants and those from earlier waves of migration, who endure the impacts of high housing costs, the under-resourcing of health, education and welfare, ever longer working days and the pace of work employers feel free to impose because of the competition for jobs.

Meanwhile, the owners of capital are laughing all the way to the bank. In a country that is still grappling with how to deal with the results of the first wave of immigration, more accurately described as colonisation, we need to be very aware and thoughtful about how we approach further waves of immigration.

* Sue Bradford is a community based jobs and welfare activist and a former Green MP. She currently works as Project Coordinator for new left think tank ESRA (Economic and Social Research Aotearoa).