Ex-Hastings District councilor Peleti Oli-Alainu’uese says the Regional Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme is creating a form of “modern-day slavery” and any policy changes need to focus on improving working conditions.
“We need to address the treatment of our workers, before we look at increasing the numbers, otherwise we’re just doubling the problem,” he says.
“A lot is happening within this sector but RSE workers can’t really raise issues because they will be threatened to be sent back home to the islands - so it’s a real sticky situation."
As part of National’s Getting Back to Farming package, the party has pledged to double the RSE worker cap from 19,000 to 38,000.
PMN News reports Oli-Alainu’uese, who’s parents moved to Flaxmere from Samoa in the mid-1980s to work in Hawkes Bay's orchards, says there needs to be a focus on the education of workers when they arrive.
“Because they’ve been brought over here via their employer - it’s really up to the employer to how they treat the workers and there’s not really a system in place to hold employers accountable. Because of the language barriers, workers either can’t or are too afraid to speak up because they fear they’ll be put on a plane back home.”
He says another issue is the accommodation provided for workers.
“Some of the living conditions are like prisons and some are being charged so much in rent, they barely have enough to live on, let alone sending money back to their families in the islands.”
Green Party immigration spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March shares Oli-Alainu’uese’s view. He says it’s time for National and Labour to put politics aside and design a scheme with cross-party consensus.
“We must go further and decouple work visas from single employers, and completely redesign the scheme to put workers rights first. Without an actual overhaul of the scheme, the exploitation of workers will continue propping up the agriculture industry,” Menéndez March says.
National Party's policy announcement also includes plans to create a pathway to residency for RSE workers and to eliminate the median wage requirement, which party leader Christopher Luxon says is about reinvigorating New Zealand's farming industry.
“New Zealand is an agricultural nation. National will boost our economy while protecting our environment. National is proud to back New Zealand’s world-leading farmers.”
And creating better pathways to residency is something the Greens also support.
“The Greens have long called for pathways to residency for RSE workers, so it’s good to see other parties finally joining the call," Menéndez March says.
“But, doubling the RSE scheme without committing to improving conditions for workers, while pledging to get rid of the median wage requirements for other temporary migrant workers as National is proposing, is trying to prop up the agriculture industry through exploitation.
“The Greens remain the only party committed to fighting for fair pathways to residency for all migrant workers who help build Aotearoa."