Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Union says immigrants forced to accept pay below minimum wage

Hundreds of Chinese chefs are entering New Zealand under the free trade agreement with China. Photo / Thinkstock
Hundreds of Chinese chefs are entering New Zealand under the free trade agreement with China. Photo / Thinkstock

Chinese chefs working here are being asked to accept pay cuts or face losing their jobs, because of hundreds of Chinese chefs entering the country under the free trade agreement with China.

This ready supply of chefs, some of whom may be prepared to work for less than the minimum wage, could put chefs out of work here, the National Distribution Union said. As part of the agreement, a fixed quota of Chinese workers - including 200 chefs - is allowed here under a special immigration work category.

Chef is the most popular occupation, with the entire 200 quota having been snapped up.

Other occupations include Chinese tour guide, Chinese wushu martial arts coach, Mandarin teacher's aide and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. To manage demand, Immigration New Zealand said it will, from April, be making approvals in batches of 33.

A Chinese chef told the Herald the restaurant where he works was offering the new arrivals "minimum wage less living expenses".

"Our boss deducts money for staying at his property and meals at the restaurant, so effectively, they will just be getting about $8 an hour," he said.

"I have been told to either match this, or face having to go back to China when my working visa expires in March."

The union said it was seeing about three cases of migrant workers complaining of being paid below the minimum wage each month, but could not say if any were linked to Immigration's China special work category.

"We are hearing that Chinese and migrant workers are getting $10 an hour," said the union's migrant support co-ordinator, Dennis Maga.

People who complained to the union did not lodge official complaints for fear of losing their visas and right to remain in the country.

John Howard, Department of Labour general manager, said the department has not received complaints specifically linked to the China special work visas.

- NZ Herald

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