Migrant workers are among the most vulnerable and exploited sections of the working class. The system and its laws conspire to put them in a position where they are easy targets, often too afraid to take on exploitative bosses for fear of losing even their meagre income. They are frequently used as slave labour, and it’s common for them to be bonded to a particular company for the duration of their visas. But recently a group of migrant workers in Tauranga showed how unity and direct action can give them strength, dignity and the resolve to stand up for their rights. Sunny Sehgal of the Migrant Workers Association tells the story, which came to his attention when he was approached by a worker in a liquor store
“The owner of the liquor shop had five other liquor shops across the North Island, paying workers below minimum wage, with no basic entitlements. These migrant workers had been used for a long time as slaves. They became friends and colleagues and planned among themselves, without the help of any union, that on the same day at the same time they would hand over the keys of the shops to the boss and not open the stores. They did this with no support. They walked off the job there and then. After this they hired a consultant to represent all of them to get their money back from the employer. In total, the six of them were owed around $400,000 (in under-payment, holiday pay etc). The consultant got a deal from the owner saying he would give them $10,000 each. The workers rejected the offer. Now the associate has sent a bill of $2000 each to every worker. So now they are even more in debt. They’ve turned to the Migrant Workers Association to take on their case.”
We salute these brave and principled workers for fighting for what is rightly theirs, and for calling an exploitative employer to account. We’ll keep you updated on developments in their case.