And so it begins….the Press reported yesterday that Union leaders were asking the government to restrict approvals for migrant workers on temporary visas, so that kiwi workers jobs could be saved.
And why not? As the usually practical Andrew Little says:
Kiwi workers are obviously capable of making a long-term commitment to the business, but those on work visas are limited to a couple of years.
I would hope employers would take that into account.
The problem with this way of talking is that it is about people. Unions are there for all workers, right? Or are some workers more equal than others?
I was a member of Unison in the UK for many years, the large public sector union. It gave me good working hours, 6 weeks annual leave, sick leave entitlement.
At that time, it gave my Black British colleagues that too – but it did not, ever, have their trust. I worked with Black women, some born in the UK, some who had migrated from the Caribbean to join family, who told stories of being excluded from pay agreements in public sector nstitutional settings in the 1960s and 1970s.
Then there was the health sector, where for decades Caribbean nurses made sure the NHS functioned well, while being paid less than their white colleagues because their qualifications were unrecognised. They did the same work. Unions were slow to support them.
And memorably, when three Black women and one white women I worked with brought a complaint of racist practise against two white social workers – a complaint with years and years of written and verbal examples – Unison gave full support to the white social workers, who got off with a verbal warning, and token support to the complainants, who were left bitter and angry.
The borough we worked in was Lewisham in central London. Our client group was half white, half a mixture of Black British, African-Caribbean, British Asian and Bangladeshi.
There are issues here for sure – global capital has the ability to freely roam the earth, workers of course do not. So we have people on temporary work visas, and other people who qualify for permanent entry as workers.
How do those two groups look, ethnicity wise in Aotearoa New Zealand?
Temporary workers are overwhelmingly “others”, that helpful category.
While skilled workers on the other hand – gosh, they are overwhelmingly British.
Now, I’m not for one moment suggesting this is a simple swap. But I also don’t believe for one moment that British people are more “skilled” than people from anywhere else in the world. What this shows us, even given the historical connections we have with the UK, is that entering Aotearoa is still pretty open if you are British.
Even though, in theory, our immigration categories are colour-blind.
So when we talk about restricting “temporary workers”, we need to be aware who we mean. And we need to ask if “skilled workers” are in equal need of restriction – or, and this would be my preference, whether restrictions of all kinds on where people live should be radically overhauled in favour of freer movement.
Anything else is pandering to racism. Let’s face it, middle eastern and African cab drivers with medical degrees are not just an urban myth.