Monday, February 16, 2009

The cost of prison slave-labour

I've blogged several times in the past about the use of prison slave-labour in New Zealand. So far I've focused on the exploitation of prisoners and their lack of worker's rights - but there is another side to the equation as well. In Auckland, over a hundred workers have just lost their jobs due to prison slave labour. That work, skilled employment with reasonable pay, has gone inside prison walls to Corrections' captive labour market:

Auckland company Stevensons has been making concrete slabs for over 60 years.

But in the last three years it says its business has been threatened from within prison walls.

"We were aware of a couple of contracts at least that were awarded to prison, prison staff effectively undercutting the existing traditional precast players," says Managing Director of Stevensons, John Rae.

Rae says his company lost at least two contracts worth up to half a million dollars.

Maximum security Paremoremo Prison won the tenders.

It's difficult to compete with someone who can pay their workforce $0.20 an hour and is not subject to normal taxes, health & safety rules or labour standards. And while Corrections' Inmate Employment Policy requires charging "a competitive market-related price", as we've seen from recent abuses of electoral law, there's a high degree of wiggle room in that phrase, which leaves plenty of space for Corrections to undercut legitimate businesses. The end result is honest, hardworking people driven out of work in favour of slaves. And with National planning a massive boost in prison numbers and a greater use of prison slave labour, we're going to see more and more of it over the next three years.