By Corina Oliquino i FilAm Star Correspondent

A report commissioned by New Zealand’s E tu Union and funded by the Industrial Relations Fund, revealed experiences of more than 45 mostly Filipino workers in Christchurch and Auckland, receiving low salaries and facing uncertain work hours, inadequate living conditions and expensive immigration process.

A report by RadioNZ notes a small number of workers from other ethnicities were also interviewed, as well as a handful of employers.

According to the report, Filipino workers were paid up to $16 per hour less than their Kiwi counterparts, despite having years or even decades of experience in their trade.

In another report by ABS-CBN News, one interviewee was paid $28 (PHP 1,093.79) an hour and a few were paid $27 (PHP 1,054.44).

“Not one of the Filipino construction workers interviewed for this research and who provided his hourly rate was paid as much as the $29.42 (P1,148.95) an hour recorded by Statistics NZ as being the average hourly pay rate in the construction industry for the first quarter of 2018,” ABS-CBN News reported.

The study also found that the workers “sometimes do not start work until after they have been in New Zealand for a month and might not be paid for a further month…irrespective of what their contracts state.”

“Some workers have very uncertain work hours, or very few hours. This is extremely stressful for them and their families. All of the workers spoken to, who did not have their families in New Zealand, sent money back to the Philippines to support their families there,” it noted.

The report claimed that workers were also prohibited from joining a union, with one company admitting that its employees were not even allowed to post pictures on Instagram.

Expensive visa and permanent residence applications and dire living conditions
In the same report by ABS-CBN News, most of the interviewed Filipino workers also said they would like to bring their families to New Zealand but the expense of visa and permanent residence applications was a “major barrier.”

The report noted many workers pay thousands of dollars in fees to immigration advisers but some respondents said their employers “did not want to assist them with placing their immigration status on a more secure footing.”

“They preferred them to be on one or three-year visas and to be in an uncertain position,” the report said.

Many of these workers also come to New Zealand for jobs arranged by companies in the Philippines, and the study found that they arrive in the country with “high debt burdens.”

“They are susceptible to exploitation as they feel immediate pressure to earn money not only to support themselves in New Zealand and to send money to their families in the Philippines, but also to repay their debts,” the report noted.

The report also said that the workers’ living arrangements were cause for concern, with most of them relying on housing provided by Pastoral Care companies.

“Several Filipino workers would typically live in a single house and share rooms,” the report noted.

The report also quoted an advocate working with Filipino construction workers as saying up to 16 to 20 people were placed in a 4-bedroom house, each paying a flat-rate for a 2-person room.

In an interview with RadioNZ, E tu Union spokesperson Ron Angel said the findings made him upset.

“For the first time, there is research which shows migrant workers who are Filipino being underpaid because they are Filipino and for no other reason,” Angel said.

“When I was reading this, it nearly brought me to tears. The angst they were going through, and the suffering on a daily basis, being away from their families and what got me was, here we were welcoming these people into New Zealand to help rebuild Canterbury and we didn’t look after them,” Angel added.

Angel is also urging Immigration NZ to start caring for the workers it brought into New Zealand and is also calling on the Kiwi government to address pay disparity.

“In fact, we made life terrible for them and I feel ashamed,” Angel said.

The report made a number of recommendations, including a more thorough data collection of migrant pay scales with comparisons to what is received by New Zealand natives.

It is also urging the Kiwi government to fund research on experiences of migrant workers in dealing with visas and immigration, in particular the expense and cost of the immigration process.

“The government should also communicate with future migrant workers the cost of permanent residency and the possibility of family re-unification,” the report said.

The report is also suggesting a strategy for quality, affordable housing for migrant workers and publicly-funded programs to provide practical information and assistance to migrants and their families to support settlement.