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Group of Migrant Workers Earn Less in New Zealand

According to a study, many migrant workers on the wrong side of the wage gap in New Zealand earn less than most migrant workers despite knowing two languages and being overqualified.

According to a survey commissioned by Diversity Works New Zealand, migrant workers from South Africa, North America, the United Kingdom, and the rest of Europe earned a higher average hourly salary than migrant workers from Asia, Polynesia, Central and South America, Micronesia, and Melanesia.

“In 2018, engineering professionals from the UK, South Africa, and Northern America all earned an average wage above $45 an hour. In contrast, engineering professionals from India, China, and Polynesia all had hourly wages below $40,” said Diversity Works chief executive Maretha Smit​.

Business and Economic Research Ltd (Berl) authors altered the data to compare migrant workers with comparable skill levels, English language proficiency, age, and time spent in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Despite this, they discovered that those born in Asia and South America received much lower average incomes than migrant workers from Europe and Northern America, according to Smit.

According to the 2018 Census, more than a quarter of New Zealand’s population, and almost 39% of its working-age population, was born abroad. People born in the United Kingdom were by far the largest group.

According to the report’s authors, people born in China, India, South Africa, Polynesia, and Australia also made up a sizable portion of New Zealand’s population.

According to Smit, Diversity Works commissioned the study since previous studies on salary disparities had not focused on migrant workers.

Migrant workers: Kiwi fruit harvest in New Zealand
Kiwi fruit harvest in New Zealand

Salary disparity among migrant workers

International study, mainly from European nations, revealed a salary disparity between non-migrant workers and migrant workers, however, this did not appear to be the case in New Zealand.

However, additional studies revealed that there was a salary disparity, but it was according to the nation of origin.

“Our immigration settings seem to be working overall because we don’t have, like you have in Europe, a significant pay gap, but it works a lot better for some people than for others.”

Those who spoke both English and another language were more likely to earn less than migrant workers who spoke just English.

“It could be argued, considering New Zealand’s largest source countries for migrant workers, that migrant workers who spoke English and another language had a lower English language ability than those who spoke English only,” they said.

Other obstacles were the difficulties of transferring qualifications of migrant workers from Asian countries as compared to those coming from European or North American countries.

Discrimination against migrant workers

The study found that migrant workers who did not speak English as a first language were more likely to be overqualified, with some indication that Asians were more likely to be overqualified than Europeans.

“Therefore, even though these migrant workers may have the right skills and qualifications, language and institutional barriers may be holding them back from career progression or earning the same wages as their European counterparts.”

Those inequalities should have vanished for migrant workers who had been in New Zealand for more than five to ten years, but this was not the case, and gaps persisted even for those who had spent a significant length of time there.

They claimed that not all of the disparities could be attributed to discrimination and prejudice. The existence of inequalities across migrant groups with the same employment and level of education, on the other hand, indicated that bias and discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, affected the labor market.

There was also a scarcity of persons from certain migrant groups in positions of leadership.

According to the authors, evidence indicated that less than half of those who learned they were being paid less than their peers protested formally.

Migrant workers in NZ
Migrant family in New Zealand

“This is likely to be even less in the case of migrant workers, especially those in low-skilled roles and where their visa might be linked to their employer.

“If employees are afraid of raising the issue with their employers for fear of souring the relationship or even losing their jobs, these biases and discrepancies are more likely to be enduring.”

Pay transparency was effective in identifying and closing pay inequalities.

“It is possible that in many organisations, particularly larger ones with more employees, these gaps and differences are unknown to management.

“Reporting the pay gaps by gender and ethnicity ensures that the existence of this issue is brought to light. Acknowledging that the problem exists and taking steps to correct it builds a climate of inclusion.”

Smit stated that more study will be conducted to determine the causes of the salary disparity across migrant groups, such as how abroad degrees were recognized in New Zealand and the impact that different visa categories played.

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