With unemployment figures yesterday reaching a new low, employers are calling for an amnesty for Pacific Island overstayers.
The move will embarrass both the Government and the National Party.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday said any decision on an amnesty would be reserved for the Immigration Review, which is not expected to be finished until early next year at the earliest.
A question from POLITIK to National’s leader, Judith Collins, on Monday seeking the party’s policy on an amnesty, went unanswered.
But Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford yesterday said the party opposed an amnesty because it would be a slap in the face of those migrants who had abided by their visa rules.
However ACT, in a move that will further embarrass National and the Government, said (through a spokesperson) that it would give overstayers a two year work visa.
The northern Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) Chief Executive Brett O’Riley said his organisation was calling for the Government to declare an overstayer amnesty alongside allowing more Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers from the Pacific Islands to come here quarantine-free from next month.
“We are keen to work with the Government on how an overstayer amnesty and residency pathway like this would help fill the skills chasm, now and in the future,” he said.
The Organisation’s Director of Advocacy and Strategy, Alan McDonald, said it was one way of extending the apology to pacific Islanders for the dawn raids.
“This is one way of extending that apology and rightfully so, allowing the overstayers and their families to take part in the health, education and employment systems, giving them the protection from exploitation that we know has happened and creating valuable members of our society because generally they’re pretty hardworking and that’s what we need,” he said.
“There’s an opportunity missed, we feel.”
McDonald said the overstayers were left open to exploitation because they sat in the grey and black cash economy.
“It excludes them because they don’t want to be identified,” he said.
“If you’re legally in the workforce, then you’ve got access to legal protections.
“If your parents are legally in the system, then you’re not worried about sticking your hand up and going to university or going to the doctor or whatever.
“And that’s why we perceive a missed opportunity, particularly at the moment where we’ve got no immigration.
“We’ve got no people, and we’ve just had a four per cent unemployment number come out today, and so we’ve got these massive shortages right through the system.”
The EMA’s call has been prompted by very low unemployment figures released yesterday, which underline claims from business that the labour market is very tight with workers hard to find.
Figures released by Statistics New Zealand show that for the June quarter, overall unemployment is now down to four per cent.
But there are sharp ethnic divisions within that figure.
Pakeha unemployment is at 3.1 per cent; Maori and Pacific islanders at 7.8 per cent.
What is not recorded is how many of those Pacific Islanders shown as being unemployed actually have jobs in the cash economy because they are overstayers.
Combined Trade Unions (CTU) Economist and Director of Policy Craig Renney. said that though the unemployment rate fell for Maori and Pacific Peoples to 7.8%, it was still more than double the rate of Europeans (3.1%).
Unemployment for 20-24 years at 6.8% was more than double the rate of those aged 30 and over.
“We have some distance to go before we have truly delivered maximum sustainable employment,” he said in reference to one of the Reserve Banks criteria it must consider when setting the Official Cash Rate. (OCR)
Trading bank economists, however, were yesterday convinced that the unemployment fall would push the Reserve Bank towards an interest rate rise.
Nick Tuffley, ASB Chief economist, said the sheer strength of the NZ labour market over the June quarter indicated the Reserve Bank was s likely to lift the OCR relatively swiftly over coming months.
“We now expect the OCR will increase by 25 basis points (.25%) in each of August, October and November, reaching its pre-COVID rate of one per cent by the end of this year.
Also forecasting a hike was Michael Gordon. Westpac’s acting Chief Economist who said the unemployment figures underscored that the domestic economy was running hot and no longer warranted the degree of monetary stimulus that was currently in place.
ANZ economists Finn Robinson & Sharon Zollner forecast that the Reserve Bank would keep on raising the OCR beyond December until it reached 1.5 per cent by mid-2022.
“Today’s data shows we’ve flown past full employment, and the economy is becoming quite overheated,” they said.
“The tight labour market is flowing through into wages, with labour costs up 0.9 per cent (for the June quarter (2.2 per cent for the year) and average hourly earnings up 4.5 per cent in the year to June.
“Given the strength in today’s data, we think that’s only the beginning of strong wage rises this year
“The balance of power in the labour market has shifted markedly towards workers over the past year, and this is showing up in employees’ bank accounts.”
Figures on the deportation of overstayers are hard to come by, but in 2017, 73 Tongans and Fijians were deported for overstaying their visas.
Others left voluntarily after they had been apprehended.
The Human Rights Commission is currently undertaking a study on Pacific Island pay equity which is expected to reveal more about the grey economy in which overstayers are forced to work.
Slowly the Government will begin to run out of reasons not to pick up the EMA’s proposal, all the more remarkable because it comes from an organisation usually associated with centre-right politics.