Migrant worker describes 'modern day slavery' scam

by Laura Tupou / 14 September, 2017

Photo  / Alexander Robertson

A migrant worker who describes himself as a modern-day slave says he is blowing the whistle on exploitation he believes is widespread.

The man, who RNZ is naming only as Danny, came from Sri Lanka with his wife in 2011.

Like thousands of others, they came for a better life. For five years he worked and studied and in 2016 was offered a well-paid job in Auckland and a clear path to permanent residency within 12 months.

The couple decided it was a good move, but Danny said it soon became clear he had signed up for a scam that involved a money merry-go-round to fool immigration authorities.

Danny admits his hands aren't clean but he now wants to shed light on the exploitation of migrant workers in Auckland.

He was introduced to the boss of a small Auckland business by his brother-in-law, he said, who then told him he had to pay $25,000 in cash to secure the job and then get his residency.

He said his brother-in-law, his new employer and an immigration lawyer involved in the scam all got a cut of the money.

A few weeks into the job his brother-in-law told him he would not be paid, but would have to give the appearance to immigration authorities he had a legitimate job.

Danny said in order to do that, his wife drove a taxi 12 hours a day, six days a week. She then withdrew cash from her account, which was passed to Danny's employer, who then paid Danny a portion into his bank account as a sham wage.

Danny said as well as his main job he had to do other work such as drive his employer's son and paint his house.

"He's asking me to clean his house, bring his kid - I had to bring him from the station and I have to pick him [up from] some places. Clean up house and gardening. Sometimes I have to do painting and stuff, whole house.

"I felt like a New Zealand modern day slavery," Danny said.

He stayed at the job for almost 10 months, but said eventually the couple's strained finances and the long hours he and his wife worked put stress on their relationship and they broke up, he said.

Danny said without his wife's taxi work, he couldn't keep up the payments to his boss, so when his employer demanded another $35,000 he walked away without paying.

"I felt like what they're doing was wrong and I prefer more dignity. Residency is good but if you lost your soul or if you lost your heart, what's the point? You're like an empty man.

"You become more like, sell anything to do any type of stuff, you're more like a criminal, you know? That's the craziness of most of the people's mind - they do anything for residency."

Danny said he knew what he was doing was wrong but he trusted his brother-in-law, who got his residency in a similar arrangement with his boss.

RNZ has heard a secret recording Danny made of a conversation with his former employer where they talk about the scam.

His lawyer said they went to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) to lay a complaint and offered the recording as evidence of Danny's exploitation, but authorities wouldn't investigate and told them complainants should come forward at the first instance of exploitation.

The lawyer argued that if that was the case, there would almost never be a case taken. "And another thing I think they said is whether or not he has clean hands. Again, if you have been part of or party to a migrant exploitation situation it's highly unlikely that one would ever have clean hands."

In a statement, Immigration New Zealand said the initial complaint did not meet the threshold for investigation, but it did refer it to the Labour Inspectorate. It said the fact that Danny "admitted being complicit in the original arrangements was relevant to INZ's initial assessment".

It said addressing the exploitation of migrants was a priority, and the Labour Inspectorate did not tolerate employers who failed to provide employees with their minimum employment entitlements, such as a minimum wage or holiday pay.

Danny is now homeless, jobless, and without a valid visa. While he waits for a decision, he volunteers at the Salvation Army and is being supported by a church, which is helping to feed and house him.

He said he now wanted to shine the light on the issue of exploitation.

"So many exploitations are going on at the moment, I have heard. That's why I want to bring this story to the public because I need to make sure the New Zealanders - the true owners of this country - they don't want to see those things happening on their ground."

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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