Migrant workers are banding together to stand up to the government amid fears they are being scapegoated for New Zealand’s problems.
They discussed their concerns at a meeting with activists and union representatives in Auckland on Monday evening.
Several dozen people attended the event, which was held at the Unitarian Church in Ponsonby.
The Unitarians made national headlines in February when they offered sanctuary to Indian students who faced deportation from New Zealand.
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Many of those at Monday’s meeting were upset by the government’s recent announcement of an immigration crackdown.
Immigration minister Michael Woodhouse claimed the changes would tackle both the number and quality of migrants coming here for work, but that was dismissed by Sunny Sehgal of the Migrant Workers Association.
“I think it’s just a sham,” Sehgal said.
Others at the meeting described how migrant workers were left distressed and crying to find that under the new rules, they no longer had the pathway to residency they had been promised.
“The government changes to the immigration rules are creating a great deal of misery for many workers and students in this country from overseas,” said Mike Treen, national director of Unite Union.
“[They] have come under different rules and have had their hopes and dreams for the future dashed.”
Fellow Unite Union organiser Shirley Wang said many migrant workers had sacrificed everything for a chance at a new life in New Zealand.
“A lot of these people have come here seeking a better life for their children, and have nothing to go back to,” she said.
Treen became animated as he said migrants were being blamed for everything from Auckland’s transport woes to the housing crisis.
“There’s an interconnected system of exploitation,” he said.
People murmured “shame” as Treen addressed those gathered at the event.
Diego Chavez, who came to New Zealand from Mexico, said the working class should band together and fight for “full rights for migrants”.
“They blame our Chinese and Indian brothers and sisters to try and divide us, and we must stand in unity,” he said.
“We have to fight against the xenophobia of political parties.”
Chavez reminded the audience that Monday’s event coincided with International Workers Day, which celebrates labourers and the working classes worldwide.
Various strategies were discussed at the meeting for how migrant workers could stand up for their rights.
One idea suggested was that candidates should stand in this year’s general election to fight back against politicians who they saw as scapegoating migrants.
The Te Atatu electorate was suggested as a possible target – the seat is currently held by Labour housing spokesperson Phil Twyford, who sparked controversy when he used Chinese-sounding surnames to make assumptions about the levels of foreign property ownership in Auckland.
There was disagreement about whether standing candidates was the most effective way to combat negative political messaging.
Another meeting to support migrant workers will be held in a few weeks.