Rally to support immigrant workers

Unions including TEU, First, E Tū, and NZNO gathered outside the Philippines embassy in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington at midday on Friday 19th January 2024, calling on the Philippines government to ensure migrant workers are provided support. New Zealand construction company ELE, which employed numerous Filipino workers on temporary work visas, went into receivership in December 2023. Former ELE employees have lost their jobs, not been paid for all of the work they have already undertaken for the company, and their immigration status is left in a precarious position. While both Philippines and New Zealand government agencies have stated they will support these workers, that support has thus far not been forthcoming.

The Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington rally consisted of approximately 20 people who bore union flags and carried placards with slogans such as “Final pay – don’t delay” and “Defend workers’ rights”. Speeches reiterate the vulnerability of migrant workers and the need for immediate support from both governments. A letter hand-delivered to the Philippines embassy reiterates the call for support. Numerous police made their presence known shortly after delivery of the letter, as the rally began to disperse. Similar rallies were held in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and Ōtautahi Christchurch outside the offices of the receivership administrators Deloitte.

It is inspiring to see unions taking to the streets to support vulnerable workers. What has been missing from media reporting of this issue, however, is the way in which that vulnerability is entirely caused by the governments who say they will “help”. Immigration New Zealand stated in December that “it will try to stop the fired workers being forced to leave New Zealand”, and some sacked workers have been left homeless in part due to this country’s failure to provide a universal and rapidly-accessible housing safety net. One speech at Friday’s rally called out the Philippines government for fostering an economic situation where workers needed to pursue expatriate work to support their families. While we acknowledge the unions’ support of these workers, we should also encourage calling out the culpability of both governments. Calling on Immigration New Zealand to “fast-track the workers’ visa processing and avoid sending threatening emails about possible deportations” is merely an immediate-term band-aid for the festering wound that is the exploitation of workers via migration rules. We could collectively set our sights higher and call into question the entire institution of visas and limitations of the free flow and activity of people across national borders at all.

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