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Don’t scrap accommodation requirements for farm workers

Don’t scrap accommodation requirements for agricultural workers

Regulations setting minimum accommodation standards for agricultural workers should not be scrapped when the new Health and Safety at Work Act is in place says Multicultural New Zealand.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has proposed deleting the regulations in a discussion document on which it is seeking public submissions.

Under the present regulations employers must ensure that accommodation provided to agricultural employees is made of permanent materials, is maintained in good order and condition, and contains or has access to facilities for such things as cooking, drinking, washing and toileting.

In the discussion document MBIE proposes that there be no specific regulation relating to agricultural accommodation “as the proposed new Act requires a person conducting a business or undertaking to ensure that any accommodation provided to a worker as part of their job does not expose the worker to a risk to their health and safety”.

Multicultural New Zealand strongly urges that specific provisions relating to accommodation for agricultural workers be retained.

There has been a significant increase in the number of migrant workers in agriculture in recent years, particularly in dairying, and the isolation of such workers and their lack of knowledge of basic minimum protections in New Zealand make it all the more necessary to ensure that requirements on employers are specific and clear. A recent report by the Ministry’s labour inspectorate indicated a high level of non-compliance in this sector, with 31 of 44 farms being in breach of minimum employment standards. More enforcement is required rather than less regulation.

We note the comment made by the President of the NZ Council of Trade Unions, Helen Kelly, on 26 June 2014 to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee considering the Health and Safety at Work Bill: “We are very aware of the increasing use of migrant farm workers and how vulnerable they are to exploitation on short term work arrangements. Farm workers deserve some standards in accommodation provision.” (http://union.org.nz/news/2014/ctu-tells-select-committee-workplaces-must-be-made-safer).

We also note that the accommodation standards for RSE workers in horticulture and viticulture rely in part on the current regulations on accommodation of workers in agriculture.

In the interests of the health and safety of migrant workers these regulations should be retained following passage of the new Health and Safety at Work Bill.


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