Many migrant temporary visa holders (work visa holders and international students) are living in anxiety, fear and desperation during the Covid-19 Alert Level-4 lockdown as employers turn their backs on them and deny helping with wage-subsidies.
The government has announced a Covid-19 wage subsidy to support employers and help them continue to pay their workers over the four-week shutdown period and beyond.
However, migrant workers are struggling to get the benefits as some employers are not holding their part of the bargain and using the unprecedented lockdown as a pretext to not extend their job contracts or telling them straight that there was no work.
Many temporary workers are struggling to get access to the government’s wage subsidy scheme announced to help workers facing job-loss, reduction of working hours, or redundancies due to the unprecedented lockdown.
The Indian Weekender has been contacted by several migrant workers, mostly on temporary work visas but some on resident visas as well, who are experiencing financial distress and uncertainty during the lockdown period after their employers turned their back upon them for various reasons.
Most of the temporary workers were in between the transition from international student visa status to open work visas, when the threat of coronavirus pandemic struck New Zealand and the government announced a complete lockdown, leaving them without any meaningful work opportunities.
Many workers are, and expectedly though while reaching out for help are in fear of revealing their and the employer’s identity, which has declined to assist them with a wage subsidy giving a pretext that their business will not qualify for getting employee’s wage subsidy.
The email response from an employer to a desperate migrant-employee that the Indian Weekender has seen, and is choosing to not reveal to protect the interests of temporary workers who were working in different roles for an Auckland CBD based residential apartment firm, which has expressed inability to help the employee with wage subsidy for the reason that their business would not qualify for government’s recently announced wage subsidy.
“As per our discussion earlier, due to the commitment government imposed on employers *** ******** [Business Name] can not meet these requirements, thus do not qualify for the Covid-19 wage subsidy,” an email that one of the temporary workers told the Indian Weekender, was from his employer, stated.
Parth Kumar Patel, who first arrived in New Zealand on a student visa in 2017, and after completing Level 5 & 7 studies of Diploma in Business Management, just got his open work visa approved last week.
Throughout his studies, he has been working part-time as cleaner and Housekeeping for an Auckland CBD based residential apartment.
It was just when he had applied for an open work visa after completion of his course and his visa status was changed to the interim visa that he was rightly asked by his employer to stop working and start again when his open work visa was approved.
When he got his work visa approved and approached his employer, he was told by them about the changed realities owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, what was shocking was the response of the employer who declined to assist him with the wage subsidy scheme as apparently their business did not qualify as per the government’s guidelines.
Parth told the Indian Weekender that there were at least 15 other workers on different temporary visas working for the same employer who has been left in cracks with no remedy in sight.
“I am fortunate that my friends are helping me with food and accommodation during these times, but their generosity is also not endless,” a visibly worried Parth said.
Harpreet Kaur, an international student, who was also working for the same employer just before entering into lockdown told the Indian Weekender, “I am really struggling to pay for food bills and rent. Not sure where to go.”
Deepak Sanen, who is on a resident visa and has been working with the same employer for one and a half years has also been told that he would not be able to get the government's wage subsidy scheme.
The wage subsidy scheme requires an employer to contact the government (work and income) to get wage subsidy for the employee, and there was no provision for employees to contact directly, in cases where the employer was not playing fairly.
The Indian Weekender had sent an inquiry to the office of the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson for more clarity on the government’s support for migrant workers on temporary visas.