Systemic racism allegation needs follow-up

On Parliament’s last sitting day before the Easter recess, Sue Bradford asked oral questions of Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. Although Bradford made a follow up media release, the questions and responses largely fell below the MSM radar, possibly because the next day was Good Friday.

Essentially, what appears to have happened is that the Ministry of Social Development rounded up a number of Burmese refugees from several different Work and Income offices in the lower part of the North Island, and sent them to a dodgy fruit picking operation in Hawkes Bay where they were mercilessly exploited by an unscrupulous employer.

But Bradford’s final question, and Bennett’s limp repsonse, deserve some follow-up.

Why was it that only Burmese refugees were sent to this particular job? It seems to me there could be three possibilities:

  1. It was pure coincidence.
  2. The employer had asked for Burmese workers on “cultural affinity” grounds, and Work and Income meekly complied.
  3. Work and Income knew the job was dodgy, so deliberately sent workers with poor English and no knowledge of New Zealand employment law to minimise the likelihood of there being complaints.

Given the miniscule proportion of the population who are Burmese refugees, 1) above is about as likely as Taito Phillip Field becoming the next Prime Minister.

Either of 2) or 3) cast Work and Income in a very poor light indeed. Selecting workers for any job on the basis of their ethnicity, whether or not Work and Income knew just how dodgy the job was, is completely unacceptable. Bradford was correct to refer to the incident as indicative of “systemic racism”.

Let’s hope she follows this up when Parliament resumes. This incident warrants a full investigation, not the weasel words it got from Bennett last Thursday.