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Row over Labour's `sweatshop' ramps up

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 22/06/2017

Labour is striving to control an escalating scandal over the way foreign students recruited for its election campaign were treated.

More than 80 students, mostly from the United States and the United Kingdom, were brought over as interns through a programme run by Labour leader Andrew Little's former chief of staff Matt McCarten.

Mr McCarten quit the job in May but continued to run the programme - until this week when the party stepped in, took it over and is trying to fix the problems around it.

Labour at first tried to distance itself, blaming Mr McCarten for allowing the scheme to spin out of control. But documents obtained by Newshub show it was directly associated with it and was relying on union funding to run it.

The government has accused Labour of "industrial strength hypocrisy" because it has strong policies around worker rights and housing conditions.

It also wants to clamp down on student visas, claiming foreigners are taking jobs away from Kiwis.

"It's just absolutely hypocritical to sit there and blame Matt McCarten," Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett said on Newshub's AM Show on Friday.

"Bringing people over, putting them in sub-standard accommodation, using them more or less as a sweatshop, under goodness knows what immigration rules... the circumstances are just disgraceful."

Labour leader Andrew Little has admitted it's embarrassing for his party, and his deputy Jacinda Ardern says they have to fix it.

"We've got to own this and we are, we're fixing it," she said on the same programme.

Ms Ardern revealed the scale of shambles by saying she didn't know she was on the scheme's promotional material - it advertised her as one of the political leaders who would be lecturing the students along with former prime minister Helen Clark.

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