Immigration - it's about basic fairness

Immigration is important to New Zealand. We’re a nation built on immigration. But our immigration system was never supposed to be used to prop up a low wage economy and exploit new migrants.

A new report from Treasury has warned the Government that immigration is increasingly being used to fill low-skill, low wage jobs, rather than to fill the skills shortages we need to grow our economy and create more jobs for everyone.

"It benefits us economically and enriches us culturally."

As Labour’s immigration spokesperson, I hear story after story of vulnerable migrants, newly arrived in New Zealand and without support networks, who are paid crap wages and exploited simply because their employer knows they can get away with it.

The National Government excuses this exploitation because they say New Zealanders won’t do the work. The reality, far too often, is that they can’t find New Zealanders to do the work because it is insecure, poorly paid and with terrible conditions.

We heard this recently when Bill English told a group of farmers that young males were “pretty damned hopeless”. We hear it when the Minister of Immigration implies New Zealanders are lazy for not uprooting themselves and their families to other parts of the country for short-term, minimum wage, insecure jobs.

With a government like this, it’s no surprise the latest Budget showed real wages in New Zealand were set to decline for the next two years. In fact, over the time National has been in power the share of economic growth going to working families has fallen from 50 percent to just 37 per cent. That’s worth $50 a week for the average household.

Some would try to use these facts to turn people against migrants. That would be a mistake. When immigration is managed properly it benefits both new migrants and people who already live here. It benefits us economically and enriches us culturally.

We should have an immigration system that fills genuine skills shortages and isn’t used to keep wages down. Employers should have to show they are offering decent wages before they claim there’s a skills shortage – and if they do look to immigration to fill that shortage they should pay those workers properly too. It’s about basic fairness.

People come here to get ahead, not to get stuck on the bottom rung of the ladder. Immigration can work in everyone’s favour. Under Labour, it will.