Outcome 2: Skilled people engaged in safe and fulfilling work
Supporting a responsive labour market where people are protected and can make the best use of their skills.
It is important for workers to have a sense of security as the job market and economy continue to shift and people respond and adapt to major events like natural disasters and technological advancements. Individuals require work that provides fair pay, a sense of purpose and fulfilment, and the opportunity to develop essential skills, curate social connections and drive innovation.
New immigration settings
Revamped immigration settings have been a major focus of efforts to reconnect Aotearoa New Zealand to the world, address immediate skill shortages and speed up economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This allow us to work with employers and investors and make sure they are complying with work standards and practices. Updates to our system have included the following:
- 2021 Resident Visa: a one-off residence pathway targeted at people already working here in non-seasonal roles. By 30 June, over 94% of applications had been decided and more than 137,000 people had become New Zealand residents.
- Green List skilled residence pathway: provides a new streamlined process to achieve residence for those globally hard-to-fill roles, where Aotearoa New Zealand also has particular skills shortages. The top occupations represented by applications were mechanical, construction, electrical, ICT engineers or technicians, quantity surveyors and registered nurses. Further occupations were added to the list during the year, including additional health sector roles. By 30 June, 2,985 applications had been received with over 63% approved.
- Accredited Employer Work Visa: designed to make sure New Zealanders are first in line for jobs, while also being an efficient process for accredited employers to access migrant workers where genuine skills or labour shortages exist. By the end of June, over 20,200 employer accreditation applications had been approved. Most employers are doing the right thing and treat their migrant workers fairly and well. While not a new issue, the immigration systems of developed nations have all faced increased questionable activity, across all visa categories, as COVID-19 border restrictions were lifted. Through this visa category we have a new system of checks to improve our ability to detect and respond to exploitation, with the ability to suspend or revoke an employer’s accreditation if breaches of accreditation standards are found.
- Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme: the reopened borders meant the resumption of normal flows of workers, from participating Pacific countries, supporting the horticulture and viticulture sector. MBIE supported tripartite discussions that led to the Government’s decision to increase the worker cap by 3,000 to 19,000 per year from the 2022/23 season. Over the financial year, just over 16,900 RSE workers arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand. New provisions require employers to provide a sick leave entitlement to RSE workers and to complete e-modules on employment law rights and obligations.
- Working Holiday Scheme: this is important in helping to meet fluctuating labour demand across industries like hospitality, agriculture and horticulture. To encourage the return of working holiday makers, our efforts included reissuing visas to people who had been unable to use them due to border closures, processing a one-off doubling of capped working holiday schemes, and extending visas of onshore working holiday makers. As at 30 June 2023, 44,935 Working Holiday visa applications had been approved, with 26,781 people arriving in the country.
- Active Investor Plus Visa: opened to applications in September 2022, the new visa aims to attract more direct and upfront investment and better integrate migrant investors into New Zealand’s business and investment ecosystem. Under the new policy, investors will be able to choose from a list of acceptable investment categories, including direct investments, acceptable private funds, and listed equities and philanthropy. We work closely with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, which has responsibility for investor migrant attraction.
Protecting workers and creating safe workplaces
Described as one of the biggest changes to labour market policy in 30 years, the Fair Pay Agreements Act was passed into law on 1 November 2022. The aim of the legislation is to improve employment conditions by enabling unions and employer representatives to bargain collectively for industry or occupation wide minimum employment terms. It seeks to raise minimum standards for workers and encourage competition through increased productivity, instead of reduced wages or employment terms. The change reflects intensive work and consultation over an extended period, including with employers, unions and academics.
Even in the 21st century, breaches of minimum employment rights remain a concern in Aotearoa New Zealand. The work of our Labour Inspectorate resulted in over 3,100 interventions this year to address breaches of employee’s entitlements. This included a milestone judgment from the Employment Court in December 2022, when a company was ordered to pay $1.55 million in penalties for 120 discrete employment standards breaches, and over $516,000 in owed wages payable to the employees. The money was able to be paid out to the employees immediately following the ruling, because MBIE had secured a freezing order on the defendant’s assets.
The outcome is the culmination of several years of investigative work by our migrant exploitation team and reflects the seriousness and systemic nature of the offending. The affected employees were mostly migrant workers and were relying on their employment to support their visa status. Attracting skilled migrants into Aotearoa New Zealand is an essential part of MBIE’s plans to strengthen the country’s working population, and instances like this can damage the national reputation. MBIE has been leading an in-depth review to offer more protection and support to migrant worker communities by identifying solutions to make sure they have long-term employment protection. These solutions will identify deliberate and sustained worker exploitation and support migrant workers, families and local communities both now and in the future.
It is important to make sure the building and construction sector is as safe as possible and operating well. Among several other significant initiatives, this year, MBIE consulted with the public on occupational regulation reforms in the sector for licensed building practitioners, plumbers, gasfitters and drainlayers, registered architects and electrical workers. This reform has created a stronger framework to increase worker wellbeing, protect the public from harm, and make sure services are performed with reasonable care and skill. Building and construction reform is an essential part of improving processes to make sure Aotearoa New Zealand’s skilled tradespeople are treated with respect and care.