FIRST Union says the kiwifruit declaration is at odds with the Government’s regional development initiatives, and it’s also worrying for workers.
Holders of overseas visitor permits can work in the industry in the Bay of Plenty for a short window of opportunity from now until June 8, following the Ministry of Social Development declaring a seasonal labour shortage in the region.
The New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) has welcomed the move, but the Union is concerned it will increase known exploitation in the area.
Just last year a government investigation found more than half of Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit audited employers failed to meet the bare minimum of basic employment standards.Immigration law specialist Richard Small said at the time that it was evident employers were willing to take advantage of vulnerable and desperate people.
FIRST Union General Secretary Dennis Maga says it’s a move that will place vulnerable workers into even more difficult situations.
“What others need to understand is that some people don’t have the same choices afforded to others and will accept any work because they are desperate. This leaves them wide-open to abuse, and sadly in our recent past many employers have taken advantage of this.”
Mr Maga says he has seen some atrocious treatment of workers in horticulture in New Zealand and the move provides a window of opportunity to further mistreat workers.
“Many of the employers who were employers last year during the investigation are still in the industry. I don’t think they’ve suddenly received a dose of ethics.”
He adds the government’s sending mixed messages. Its billion-dollar-a-year Regional Development Fund, a coalition deal between Labour and NZ First and overseen by Shane Jones, promises to support local workers through job creation, upskilling to provide good living standards, and therefore contributions to the national economy.
“We’re calling on Shane Jones for an explanation because this will work against the directive of the Provincial Growth Fund. I’m concerned Labour and NZ First haven’t thought this through, and it’ll be at the expense of vulnerable workers.”
Mr Maga says if the parties involved were to consider underemployment, they would realise workers were available in the region.
“What the government should be doing is telling these employers to work more efficiently with their local communities – find out what hours people are able to work and offer them those jobs.”