Fijian women in New Zealand accuse employer of slavery
11 June 2012
Two Fijian domestic workers have accused their employer of keeping them in conditions of slavery in New Zealand.
The unnamed Wellington businesswoman is facing 12 charges including exploiting people not entitled to work in New Zealand, not paying the minimum wage or holiday allowances, providing false information to an immigration officer, and procuring a breach of a visitor’s visa.
The women claim that even though their employer promised to pay them $200 a week, they actually received $40 for working a seven-day week, which they say involved round-the-clock childcare plus housework.
Their employer did not provide adequate food for them and they were forced to spend their own money to eat, sometimes sharing a can of sardines when their funds ran low.
They also said that the Wellington businesswoman confiscated their passports and forbade them from talking to anyone outside their workplace.
In a written statement, one of the women said: “I was just like a slave to them. I did not feel free at all.”
When one of the women complained about their working conditions, the employer told her she could go and work in a strip club, “like a prostitute”.
One woman was employed between June 2010 and October 2011 and received $4560 for this period while the second woman worked from February to October 2011 and earned $1320.
According to Alun McGowan, Labour Inspector, if the employer had paid her employees the minimum wage, they would have earned $66,285 and $34,367 respectively.
However, based on their working hours, they should have earned considerably more.
In October 2011 the Fijian women sought the help of New Zealand immigration officials when they realised their working conditions were exploitative.
This case highlights the plight of domestic workers internationally. According to Suzanne McNabb of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Women’s Council:
“The number of domestic workers is growing internationally but their conditions of employment are among the most exploitative and abusive of any group of workers.”
Backed by international trade unions and domestic workers’ groups, the Council endorsed a “12 by 12″ campaign on 8 March 2012 to encourage 12 countries to ratify an international labour organisation convention to protect the rights of domestic workers and end what McNabb calls “modern day slavery” in several countries.
Such a convention would provide guidelines for domestic working conditions and ensure that cases like that of the two Fijian women, will be less likely to happen.