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Marlborough Wine Industry Embraces RSE


RSE In Review

§ Marlborough Wine Industry Embraces RSE

§ But Employers Say Cost Too High

The success of the Recognised Seasonal Employment policy (RSE) can be seen in the early completion of pruning that has occurred in Marlborough this year. That is the opinion of the employers who have gained accreditation and the wine industry itself. Seventeen contractors and five growers became RSE accredited this year and between them brought more than 700 Pacific Island workers into the province.

Earlier this year there were strong fears Marlborough would not have the workforce to complete the vital job of vine pruning. Without the RSE numbers, many contractors believe those fears would have been realised. Workers have also gained experience this year that will be vital for the industry in the future, when many of them will come back for their second or third year.

However at a frank review of the policy and how it had impacted on Marlborough, employers were very concerned at the increased costs RSE had placed on them.

To bring in RSE workers an employer must pay half the airfare, provide pastoral care, ensure they have appropriate accommodation and pay a $3000 fine if one of the workers absconds.

Employers say the cost didn’t stop there, as they had to provide weeks of training, before the workers achieved a suitable level of adequacy in the vineyards. All the workers had arrived with no viticulture skill base. On average the cost to train RSE workers is five times more than to train a New Zealander to work in the vines.

With the workers coming from Pacific Islands that do not have the infrastructure New Zealand does, there was also the cost of teaching them how to use modern conveniences such as washing machines, ovens, heaters and microwaves. Hygiene and health issues were also having to be dealt with by employers, with all of them saying this is not their core business.

“You need to put huge amounts of time into mothering them and teaching them,” one contractor said. “We know how to be an employer, but we have never been trained to look after workers, after hours. We now have to be specialists in housing, care and education, with no formal training."

There was a unanimous feeling from industry personnel that orientation camps should be established for workers, prior to them arriving in the vineyards. Funding for this should fall on the governments of New Zealand and the Pacific Island the workers are coming from.

“Because the money these people are earning is going back to those Islands. It’s not staying here in New Zealand."

There was concern expressed that the Government had brought in RSE as part of its foreign aid policy, but was expecting the employers to pick up the cost of implementation.

Housing of workers has become a major issue this year, with contractors saying they have had to face huge hikes in rentals, once landlords know they are renting a property for immigrants.

“It costs an arm and a leg with landlords ramping prices up and charging on a per person basis."

A need for specialised housing was suggested, in an effort to take pressure off established residential areas.

With many of the workers now returning back to their homeland for the summer, contractors were asked if they would be happy to reemploy next year. The majority said they would but would be more selective about who they employed. All agreed having experienced staff come back would help cut the costs and in the long term should be considered as an investment.

Wine Marlborough board member Dominic Pecchenino said the consensus was RSE had been embraced in Marlborough.

“It has been a success, but there are also a number of issues that need to be addressed, not just by the wine industry, but by the government as well. We will now be taking these points to the appropriate ministers to get their response."


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