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Seasonal policy good news for NZ, Pacific states

Hon David Benson-Pope
Minister for Social Development and Employment

Hon David Cunliffe
Minister of Immigration

Statement and Backgrounder


A new seasonal work scheme will let Pacific workers fill horticulture and viticulture jobs when no New Zealanders are available, say Social Development and Employment Minister David Benson-Pope and Immigration Minister David Cunliffe.

"The new Recognised Seasonal Employer policy has been designed to ensure New Zealanders get first opportunities at jobs. It contains strong incentives for employers to train and upskill the domestic workforce," Mr Benson-Pope said.

Employers will need to show Work and Income they have made every effort to recruit workers locally and that they are good employers before being able to recruit migrant workers.

"This policy shows the Labour-led government's commitment to helping the horticulture and viticulture industries meet their labour needs through facilitating a productive, accessible workforce.

"Due to record low unemployment, the horticulture and viticulture industries face considerable pressure recruiting staff," Mr Benson-Pope said.

"This is a good policy – it helps New Zealand employers, protects New Zealanders' employment opportunities, and supports our Pacific development focus."

Mr Cunliffe said officials would now work with Pacific countries and industries and flesh out the operational details.

"The scheme will start to transition in from April 2007 – existing policies will initially remain available for employers to recruit workers while the new policy is bedded down," Mr Cunliffe said.

"Given New Zealand's ongoing labour shortages, after confirming there are no Kiwis available, the policy facilitates employers to seek migrant workers from Pacific countries first – before looking to other countries.

"We are prioritising Pacific people as temporary migrants for these industries given our special relationship with and commitment to the Pacific region. This policy will lead to the upskilling of Pacific workers who will then return to their home countries with new experiences and capabilities.

"Pacific workers, as with other migrant seasonal workers, must leave New Zealand at the end of the season concerned. Enhanced facilitation and compliance measures will underpin smooth transitions for workers and employers alike.

"This policy has been carefully designed so that the scheme will further contribute to Pacific development and New Zealand's objectives for economic success and stability in the region," said Mr Cunliffe.

--

BACKGROUNDER

Definition of terms:

Recognised Seasonal Employer policy: The new policy being introduced to meet horticulture and viticulture industry labour needs – which prioritises New Zealanders first, then allows the recruitment of Pacific nationals, and finally recruitment from elsewhere in the world.

Recognised Employer Status: Employers must gain Recognised Employer Status before being allowed to recruit overseas workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employer policy. Whether an employer gains this status is dependent on the employer's employment and health and safety practices, and evidence their workers will be protected.

Agreement to Recruit application: Once an employer has gained Recognised Employer status they can apply to recruit workers from overseas through an Agreement to Recruit application.

Recognised Seasonal Employer Work Visa: Once an employer's Agreement to Recruit application is completed, workers offshore can lodge an application for a Recognised Seasonal Employer Work Visa with the Department of Labour.

Seasonal work permit pilot: This is the current process available to employers to employ workers for seasonal work. This process will be available to employers until September 2007.

Approval in Principle process: This is the current process which allows horticulture and viticulture employers to recruit groups of workers overseas to meet labour needs. This process will be available to employers until September 2007.


Questions and answers:

Why is the Recognised Seasonal Employer policy necessary?

New Zealand's low unemployment and global competition for low skilled labour has led to an increase in labour shortages – especially in the horticulture and viticulture industries.

In order to remain competitive with the rest of the world with quality, innovation and productivity, the horticulture and viticulture industries require an ongoing supply of labour to fill seasonal shortages.

The government has addressed these shortages in a number of ways – such as increasing the number of working holiday-makers to New Zealand, and introducing processes to bring unskilled workers to New Zealand under the Approval in Principle process and the Seasonal Work Permit pilot.

However, the industry still faces labour limitations, and the Recognised Seasonal Employer policy is being introduced to meet these needs.

How does the Recognised Seasonal Employer policy work?

Employers can apply to recruit overseas workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employer policy only when there are no New Zealanders available to do the work.

To recruit overseas workers, an employer must apply for Recognised Seasonal Employer status through the Department of Labour. To gain recognition, an employer must provide evidence of good workplace practices, the ability to pay market rates and a commitment to providing pastoral care for workers. Once an employer gains recognition, it initially lasts for two years.

Once an employer has recognition, they can submit an Agreement to Recruit application to the department that outlines how many workers they need, from where they plan to recruit, and other details around the employment of overseas workers and how they can meet responsibilities. Although employers must submit a new application each season, they are likely to choose to recruit workers they have employed (and upskilled) in previous seasons.

The next step is for workers to apply for Seasonal Work visas. Applicants must meet health and character requirements, including TB testing where necessary, and show evidence of arrangements to leave New Zealand at the end of their stay.

When will it start?

The Recognised Seasonal Employer policy will begin in 2007, in a transitional period during which existing seasonal labour policies will still be open to Kiwi employers.

How long can workers stay in New Zealand?

Successful Recognised Seasonal Work Visa applicants can stay in New Zealand for seven months during any 11 month period. They cannot transfer to another permit while they are in New Zealand and must leave at the end of their seven month stay.


Can employees transfer between recognised employers?

Transfers between recognised employers will be facilitated during the seven-month period.


How many places are available under the policy?

The Recognised Seasonal Employer policy is initially capped at 5,000. This number does not add to the number of places currently available to seasonal workers.

The number of available places will vary each year depending on the forecast of New Zealanders available and industry demand. The Department of Labour and Ministry of Social Development will generate this information.

Which Pacific countries will employers be able to recruit from?

Employers will be able to recruit from all Pacific Islands Forum nations. These are the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, the Republic of Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Samoa and Vanuatu.

In order to kick-start the scheme, to help employers access Pacific labour quickly, New Zealand will help some Pacific countries to develop special facilitative measures to prepare workers and arrange pastoral care for their time in New Zealand. These countries are Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Will this replace the seasonal work permit pilot?

This policy will replace the seasonal work permit pilot, and the Approval in Principle process in the horticulture and viticulture industries (the Approval in Principle process will still be available to other industries).

There will be a transitional period after the Recognised Seasonal Employer Policy is introduced in 2007 where the Seasonal Work Permit pilot and Approval in Principle process will still be available to employers as a means to recruit overseas workers, while the new policy is bedded down.

Why are we prioritising Pacific workers over other countries?

New Zealand has a special relationship with the Pacific. We have a multitude of shared interests and are working to enhance regional cooperation. New Zealand offers preferential arrangements for permanent migration from the Pacific through the Pacific Access Category and the Samoan Quota.

New Zealand has a broad interest in seeing the Pacific being prosperous and stable. Temporary work access can make a positive contribution to our objectives of encouraging economic development and stability in the region.

Temporary migration opportunities to New Zealand are vital for Pacific countries as an outlet for unskilled workers to earn an increased income, and to aid knowledge transfer through work experience.

The Recognised Seasonal Employer Policy provides New Zealand with an opportunity to contribute to Pacific development and will contribute to New Zealand's objectives in the region for economic development and regional stability.

New Zealand employers will reap productivity gains from using a recurring workforce of Pacific workers, with workers who will up-skill from season to season.

How does it benefit New Zealanders – how can you ensure New Zealanders are being put first?

Like all immigration policy, Recognised Seasonal Employer policy is designed to ensure New Zealanders are put first, and employers have strong incentives to train and upskill the domestic workforce and utilise unemployed labour before looking elsewhere. Measures include:

· Local labour options must be exhausted (or predicted to be exhausted) for offshore labour to be recruited
· Recognised employers must demonstrate a commitment to recruiting and training New Zealanders
· It is easier and less costly for employers to hire New Zealanders – so New Zealand workers remain the most accessible and attractive source of labour
· The Department of Labour and Ministry of Social Development will forecast labour shortages and restrict numbers under the Recognised Seasonal Employer policy to ensure unemployed New Zealanders are given first opportunities at jobs

What sort of responsibility will an employer have to meet relating to their employees?

As part of the Agreement to Recruit application, employers will be responsible for the following:
· paying half of the travel costs for the workers flying to and from New Zealand
· A guarantee of pay for at least 240 hours of work (or an appropriate amount if the employment agreement is for less than 240 hours)
· Ensuring hours of work average at 30 hours per week
· Evidence of pastoral care - including suitable accommodation, translation, transportation and induction to life in New Zealand where appropriate
· Evidence workers will be paid market rates
· A commitment to paying costs for removing workers from New Zealand if they overstay.

What sort of health and character screening would applicants need to undertake?

Standard character requirements for work permits need to be met.

As per standard immigration policy, migrant workers from countries with a high risk of TB will need to be tested before being issued with a visa.

Further work is underway to examine potential health issues and the possibility of further health testing of migrant workers.

How will the risk of overstaying be mitigated?

The maximum seven month duration of the permit means employees will maintain close ties with their home countries

Employers face a financial penalty if their workers overstay, as well as the possibility of revocation of their RSE status.

The guarantee of payment and the fact that half of a worker's airfare would be paid by the employer means they will not have to stay in NZ long to recoup expenses

The option of returning the following season means workers are more likely to return home.

Enhanced compliance and enforcement measures will be in place.


ENDS

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