Gayaal for Wellington Central

Why Gayaal is standing for Wellington Central

gayaal 1

Gayaal Iddamalgoda is Legal Organiser for FIRST Union, and Wellington Central candidate for the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign (Aotearoa/NZ). We interview him on why he’s standing for Wellington Central.

Why do you support migrant/refugee rights?

Because I believe that what is good for refugee and migrants is good for all workers in Aotearoa.  Blaming migrants and refugees for the social and economic problems is a total farce. It protects the wealthy and powerful and deflects blame from the real problem which a system of growing inequality which puts workers of all nationalities and backgrounds at the bottom of the heap. Refugee and migrant workers are at the bottom of the heap, they are workers like everyone else but bosses use their isolation from the rest of the working class to drive down rights and conditions for all workers. We need to unite with migrants and refugees in order to make sure that all workers get the same rights and dignity. We need workers struggle to ensure that all workers have rights and dignity. I support refugee rights for similar reasons, wars caused by greedy imperialists disproportionately affect working people but while the rich are able to travel freely with their money wherever they please, ordinary working people’s movements is not free! Refugee rights is about freedom of movement and the basic right of all people to seek refuge from war and destruction wherever they chose.

How does your whakapapa inform your political perspective?

My family were Sri Lankan migrants. While they were lucky enough not to come here as part of any refugee quota, they did flee war and political strife. Growing up in New Zealand I saw first hand through my parents the deep psychological scars that come with dislocation and war. It gave me a deep sense of human rights and social justice. Migrants like my family are not only hard working, they also have a deep sense of resilience and a strong will to resist injustice. I really do feel that these experiences have been passed down to me and I am grateful for it.

How does your experience as a trade unionist inform your understanding of migrant/refugee rights?

As a trade unionist, I have the honour of being a part of the closest thing we have to a democratic movement. While the trade unions have a long way to go in living up to this potential, I firmly believe in the principle of workers organising together and fighting for political, social and economic power in a system that promotes the interests of a wealthy and greedy elite. I see the power of workers organizing together and I see that the interests of working people are aligned, despite any differences of race, gender, sexuality etc.

I have also had first hand insight into the oppression of migrant workers [many of whom have refugee backgrounds] and have become dismayed by the inability of these workers to access even the most basic protections as workers. Everything seems slated against them, from social prejudice and racism to unfair visa restrictions that tie them to their employers in ways that New Zealand workers are not. Refugee and migrant workers bring a net benefit to the economy and produce wealth and jobs, yet they are scapegoated by their fellow workers and kept down by racist employment and immigration policies.

What do you think of Andrew Little’s recent call to cut immigration by ‘tens of thousands’?

I think it’s appalling coming from a party that claims to represent the interests of ordinary New Zealanders. Instead of pointing the finger at bosses and corporates who increase their wealth and power at the expense of these ‘ordinary people’, Andrew little prefers to play into unfounded xenophobic scapegoating. It is sad that the so called Labour party cannot find the guts to stand up for labour, which includes the thousands of migrants working in New Zealand in near slave like conditions. It is also completely callous that Andrew Little makes this posturing in a time when we face one of the greatest refugee crises of human history.

Andrew Little’s posturing is also really absurd in light of the actual flow of immigrants into the country. It is a unsubstantial comment which seeks to sensationalise beyond any reason the real nature of immigration and make immigrants look like a dark and sinister force. It reminds me of old racist paranoia from the 19th century. It astonishes me that we have not really moved past that.

What do you hope to achieve by standing?

I hope to draw people into debates about refugee and migrant rights. I hope to challenge the causal xenophobia and expose the racist myths that lie under them. I hope to start a conversation among workers, their organisations and their unions about the importance of migrant and refugee rights and I want to make the point: ‘What’s good for migrants/refugees is good for everyone’.

Migrant and Refugee Rights, Tino Rangatiratanga

Watered-down biculturalism: How avoiding the ‘r-word’ undermines our liberation movement

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May Day rally for Migrant/Refugee Rights (source: Aaron O’Neil).

Dr Arama Rata is a researcher at the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, and the Māori spokesperson for MARRC (Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign).

At an otherwise ordinary meeting, volunteering on committee addressing biculturalism, I had an awkward moment.  Not one of those social media awkward moments that mildly embarrass, yet ultimately endear us to our online friends.  No, this awkward moment was more akin to Paulo Freire’s ‘contradictions’: those experiences that force us to analyze and reinterpret our social realities.

Our meeting had been progressing productively, when a fellow volunteer, a Black woman, brought the meeting to a screeching halt.  “What about racism?” she had asked.  What. About. Racism? You see we had been marching through our agenda, offering solutions to problems faced by Māori within the organization, without one mention of the ‘r word’.  After a short but pregnant pause, we acknowledged our colleague’s question and wrote ‘exposing racism’ on the whiteboard (we were in the midst of brainstorming) followed by ‘and structural inequalities’.  In that awkward moment we had been forced to address racism, but after the briefest consideration we had reframed racism as ‘structural inequalities’, and carried on with our biculturalism meeting.

Don’t get me wrong, Māori are not shy to address racism; for many of us it is never far from the surface of our consciousness.  But what had occurred in that meeting, I’ve come to realise, is common in ‘bicultural’ spaces, as Māori and Pākehā attempt to reach agreement by speaking in euphemisms our colonisers are comfortable with.  Limited though they may be, there are mechanisms in place to deal specifically with Treaty breaches, and many institutions have policies that offer vague commitments to uphold ‘Treaty principles’.  And so we adopt the language of our colonisers to exploit policy provisions, and in so doing attempt to dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools, one Treaty principle at a time.  However, in doing so we water-down our liberation movement, and fail to address the root cause of our oppression.

There’s no shortage of examples of racism reframed so as not to offend the ‘mainstream’ white majority.  Even our most racist institutions cannot tolerate the r word and tie themselves in linguistic knots to avoid the term.  Take prisons.  It is no secret that Māori are grossly overrepresented in the prison population. A 2007 report[1] from the Department of Corrections themselves identified prejudice resulting in harsher consequences for Māori within the criminal justice system. However, nowhere in their 60 page report do they describe the system as racist.  In fact, they attempt to dissuade readers from concluding the system is racist, warning, “The figures lend themselves to extremist interpretations” describing, by way of example, those who would “accuse the criminal justice system of being brutally racist.”  To avoid using the r word, the report opts instead for the term ‘bias’.

Ten years on, Corrections still show an aversion to the r word.  To their credit, Corrections have implemented an education program to address the unfair treatment of Māori, but they continue avoid framing the prejudice as racism, employing the further diluted term ‘unconscious bias’.  Appearing on TV3’s The Nation back in 2015 to discuss the program, Police Commissioner Mike Bush skirted the r word, stating, “our data… showed there was a disparity in the way we applied some of our discretion.” But reassured viewers that, “like any good organization you have to recognize there can be some unconscious bias.”

Corrections by no means monopolize the euphemism ‘bias’.  A recent report revealed teachers held low expectations of their Māori students, adding to a growing body of research showing that this type of racism is rife within the education system. However, the authors of the report opted to call a spade a flat, rectangular, sharp-edged digging implement, as they described the racism towards Māori as “negative cognitive bias in teachers’ judgements.”[2]

The terms ‘cognitive bias’ or ‘unconscious bias’ are not entirely without merit.  It is useful to acknowledge that the processes driving racist decision making often occur without conscious awareness.  And training programs that teach participants to acknowledge and mitigate the effects of unconscious bias can be helpful.  But it is precisely because these processes are unconscious and ubiquitous that we must name racism, unpack it, dissect it, hold it to the light, and free ourselves from it.

Diluting the language of our liberation movement in favour of Treaty sector speak is also to our detriment as it enables the separation of projects resisting colonialism from those resisting racism, despite the inextricable link between the two.  There’s a reason Māori are suspicious of the term ‘multiculturalism’, and people of colour are just as distrusting of the term ‘biculturalism’.  The terms are often used against us, by those in power, to deny our rights.  Biculturalism, Māori are told, is an outdated cultural artifact. Multiculturalism, they assure us, better captures the contemporary ethnic diversity of the nation.  Thus our concerns are relegated to the past, and our experiences as colonised peoples are overlooked. Yet, when arguing for the inclusiveness that the term multiculturalism suggests, people of colour are denied seats at tables where Māori are represented, and are told Māori rights derive from the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of this bicultural nation, thereby failing to acknowledge the cultural distinctiveness and racial oppression of people of colour.

Thus Māori and people of colour become casualties of divide and conquer tactics, as we plead our cases, compare our circumstances, and scrap for the meager resources made available to us.  Yes, our experiences are different, and our positions as colonisers and the colonized put us in a power relationship with one another that should not be ignored. But Māori and people of colour can not allow ourselves to be baited by our oppressors into a fight for the title of ‘most oppressed’: a title none of us want to win anyway.  Colonialism and racism are inextricably interconnected and any attempt to root-out one while allowing the other to thrive will ultimately result in our mutual failure.

How could the ideology racism take hold of us so tightly, permeate through every fibre of our social fabric, and operate through us, even without our awareness?  In 1868, as tensions bubbled furiously in the lead up to war in South Taranaki, Riwha Titokowaru’s representative Toi Whakataka received Crown representative James Booth, at Te Ngutu o te Manu.  Booth reprimanded Toi for the actions taken in response to creeping land confiscations, to which Toi countered, “You are doing a great wrong to us. So great you do not see it.”[3]  While it would be easy to assume that Pākehā actions in South Taranaki were motivated by greed, renowned lawyer, activist, and academic Moana Jackson described the ‘great wrong’ of colonization as ‘beyond motive’.

I never understood how colonization was ‘beyond motive’ until I had an epiphany watching my 2-year-old daughter at play.  Lately she’s been copying her father, trying to swat flies.  Despite being new to the world and endowed with a gentle nature, she has already come to see flies as utterly dispensable, with no inherent value.  She’s learnt to swat them without knowing why.  Her attitude towards flies has been formed.  And with this attitude she doesn’t need a motive to eradicate them.

Racism makes us see some human beings as inferior, as less than, as non-human.  Colonialism, based on racism – on an ideology that dehumanizes – needs no motive, no justification, as the colonist cannot see that what they do is wrong; They are just going about their day, swatting flies along the way, doing wrong that is so great precisely because they do not see it.

One Pākehā official unafraid of the r word was Andrew Judd. While serving as Mayor of New Plymouth, Judd described himself as a ‘recovering racist’. It seems his words were intolerable to some mainstream media outlets; Rather than redefining the term racism, these outlets re-characterised Judd as a ‘reformed racist’[4] or as ‘once racist’[5], conveniently tucking racism away in the past.  But in borrowing Alcoholics Anonymous terminology Judd probably knew that just like addiction, recovering from racism would not be a quick fix but a life long journey of commitment.  To extend the AA metaphor further, the first step to recovery is admitting we have a problem.  And how are we to eliminate racism from our society if we can’t even say the word?


[2] Maori students could suffer from teacher bias: Treasury-commissioned paper. New Zealand Herald. Tuesday 18 April 2017. Nicholas Jones

[3] Belich, James. (2010). I Shall Not Die: Titokowaru’s War, 1868-1869. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, p. 53.



Gayaal for Wellington Central, Migrant and Refugee Rights, National Party

Changes to ‘low-skilled migrant’ category bound to keep work insecure


The Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign has come out against changes to the rights of ‘lower-skilled’ migrants. The group says that setting a maximum duration of three years for ‘lower skilled’ work, and further shaping seasonal work around peak labour demand, will exacerbate the insecurity of migrant workers’ conditions.

“Although the changes are fairly superficial, they are taking things in the opposite direction from where we need to go,” says Gayaal Iddamalgoda, Wellington Central candidate and spokesperson for the campaign.

“By exacerbating the insecurity of so-called ‘lower-skilled’ migrant workers, these changes will enable further abuse by employers,” says Gayaal Iddamalgoda, Wellington Central candidate and spokesperson for the campaign.

“Fruit pickers, care workers, and other migrant workers perform essential services, and should be justly remunerated with secure contracts.”

“Migrant workers are already illegally underpaid under the Regional Seasonal Employer scheme, and these changes will only exacerbate this problem. Increased security of work would mean that migrant workers are more confident to raise concerns, and reverse the race to the bottom.”

“These changes will only allow employers to drive down wages and conditions, making the existing problem worse.”

The Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign has called a May Day March for migrant and refugee rights in Wellington. The event will begin with speeches on Cuba St, midday on Monday the 1st, before marching on Immigration New Zealand to deliver a written statement. Groups participating in the march include Changemakers Refugee Forum, the Public Service Association (PSA), the International Socialist Organisation, Peace Action Wellington, Fightback and Doing Our Bit – Double the Refugee Quota.


Gayaal for Wellington Central, Labour Party, Migrant and Refugee Rights, Worker Rights

Labour’s pandering to xenophobia unacceptable

Phil Twyford’s call to cut immigration is unacceptable, says Migrant and Refugee Rights spokesperson/Wellington Central candidate Gayaal Iddamalgoda.

“We need a Left that will challenge xenophobia,” says Gayaal, “Rather than pandering to the logic that allowed Trump’s rise.”

Gayaal says that the notion of migrants as a strain is misleading. “Resource distribution is not a zero-sum game. Migrants are a net benefit to New Zealand in terms of GDP and taxes paid, not a strain on infrastructure.”

Gayaal says that there is a problem with exploitation under work visas, but this would be best addressed by ensuring that migrant workers have the right to organise for better conditions.

“As a unionist, I represent migrant workers daily,” says Gayaal. “There’s nothing inevitable about the race to the bottom, only solidarity can undermine that logic of competition, and improve conditions for everyone.”

“Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book.”

The Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign has called a May Day March for migrant and refugee rights in Wellington. The event will begin with speeches on Cuba St, midday on Monday the 1st, before marching on Immigration New Zealand to deliver a written statement. Groups participating in the march include Changemakers Refugee Forum, the Public Service Association (PSA), the International Socialist Organisation, Peace Action Wellington, Fightback and Doing Our Bit – Double the Refugee Quota.

Events, Gayaal for Wellington Central, Migrant and Refugee Rights, Worker Rights

May Day march for migrant and refugee rights announced

The newly formed Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign (MARRC) has called a march on May Day in Wellington Central. The march will call for improved rights for migrant and refugee workers.

“May Day has a long history of mobilisation for workers’ rights,” says Gayaal Iddamalgoda, a union lawyer and MARRC candidate for Wellington Central. “This year, given the international upsurge of divisive xenophobia, we are mobilising for the rights of migrant workers.”

“Some call for a cap on immigration,” continues Gayaal. “Rather than attempting to put the toothpaste back in the tube, we demand full rights for migrant workers.”

“What’s best for migrant workers is best for everyone. Migrant workers need a living wage, cheap high-quality housing, and the freedom to organise with other New Zealanders to improve their conditions.”

“We challenge Labour and the Greens to stand with us for migrant and refugee rights.”

The event will begin with speeches on Cuba St, midday on Monday the 1st, before marching on Immigration New Zealand to deliver a written statement. Groups participating in the march include the Public Service Association (PSA), the International Socialist Organisation, Peace Action Wellington, Fightback and Doing Our Bit – Double the Refugee Quota.

[Facebook event]

Anti-Fascism, Gayaal for Wellington Central

Zero tolerance for white supremacy

western guard posters
Source: Newshub.

A Wellington Central electoral candidate says that a recently announced white supremacist group in Wellington cannot be tolerated. The so-called ‘Western Guard’ announced yesterday that they have a Wellington chapter.

“We cannot allow what has happened in the USA to happen here,” says Gayaal, a union lawyer and Wellington candidate for the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign. “We will shut down any attempt that white supremacists make to propagate their hate.”

Gayaal highlights the case of the white supremacist Auckland European Students Association, which was forced to disband after mobilisations by opposition groups. “As we’ve seen in Auckland, mobilisation works in shutting down white supremacy,” says Gayaal.

Gayaal for Wellington Central, Migrant and Refugee Rights, Worker Rights

Underpayment of RSE scheme workers unfortunately typical

vineyard pic
Source: Ricky Wilson, Fairfax NZ.

Recent claims by Ni-Vanuatu workers that they were underpaid by a Marlborough vineyard are unfortunately typical, says the recently formed Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign (MARRC). The workers are employed under the Regional Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, and have taken their claims to the Labour Inspectorate and Immigration New Zealand.

“New Zealand has a long, sorry history of exploiting our Pacific neighbours as cheap labour,” says Gayaal Iddamalgoda, union lawyer and candidate for Wellington Central. “The RSE scheme is just a continuation of that, with the insecurity of short-term contracts enabling abuse by employers.”

MARRC calls for open borders to the Pacific. “Without the fear of deportation,” explains Gayaal, “Migrant workers will be more confident to raise concerns.”

“Those who do raise concerns are incredibly brave,” Gayaal adds.

“We call on the trade union movement and the wider community to back workers abused under the RSE scheme, and all migrant workers.”