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Exploitation of kiwifruit workers is rife - union

Some companies are exploiting migrants who lack an understanding of New Zealand's employment laws, a union representing orchard workers says.

An audit by the Ministry of Social Development has revealed more than half of the Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit audited employers failed to meet basic employment standards last year. Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

The Ministry of Social Development has declared a seasonal labour shortage in the Bay of Plenty, meaning holders of overseas visitor permits will be able to work in kiwifruit jobs over the next four weeks.

First Union, which has just launched the Kiwifruit Workers Alliance, said more than half of the Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit audited employers failed to meet basic employment standards last year.

First Union organiser Jared Abbott told Morning Report many growers contract managers to run their orchards, who in turn bring in labour hire companies to employ the workers.

"A lot of organisations providing the labour in those areas are run by migrants" - First Union organiser Jared Abbott duration 4:45 from Morning Report

Click a link to play audio (or right-click to download) in either
MP3 format.

He said many organisations were run by migrants themselves, who were not necessarily aware of New Zealand's law, or were using other migrants' lack of knowledge of their rights to exploit them.

Company breaches included failure to calculate holiday pay and leave entitlements correctly, poor record-keeping and even being paid under the minimum wage.

Mr Abbott said some employers were putting workers on casual contracts for 50 weeks at a time to avoid paying public holiday entitlements.

Manawatu grower Russell Bowen, who harvests pumpkins and garlic near Bulls, said wages were an issue as some employers paid the minimum wage to maximise their margin, despite the fact they could afford to pay more.

Kiwifruit company Apata's managing director Stuart Weston said about 60 percent of his staff were locals, with the rest made up of workers from the Pacific and backpackers.

However, Minister of Employment Willie Jackson said employers took on migrants because there were barriers to New Zealanders taking up the jobs, including the distance to travel to work, and family and whānau responsibilities.

The Bay of Plenty labrourer shortage required an extra 1200 workers to pick and pack a bumper kiwifruit crop over the next month.

This is the third seasonal labour shortage to be declared this year. A shortage of seasonal workers was declared in the Tasman region last month and will last until 18 May.

An official labour shortage for the Hawke's Bay pip fruit industry lapsed recently.

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