By Don Franks
In a press release on 4 June 2009 the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions deplored the Government’s removal of the minimum wage protection for workers on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.
“There have been significant examples of unauthorised and unfair deductions from RSE workers’ pay even under the existing regulations,” said Wagstaff. “Relaxing the minimum wage rule will only result in more blatant exploitation of already vulnerable workers as unscrupulous employers shift costs onto them.”
“Allowing employers to make deductions which will reduce pay rates below the minimum of $12.50 per hour will significantly increase exploitation of RSE workers and undermine the credibility of the scheme”, said CTU Vice-President Richard Wagstaff.
Richard Wagstaff is dead right about the exploitation, but from a workers point of view, RSE has no credibility to be undermined.
The New Zealand Labour Department says:
“The RSE scheme facilitates the temporary entry of overseas workers, mainly from the Pacific, to plant, maintain, harvest and pack crops in the horticulture and viticulture industries to meet labour shortages in order to remain competitive with the rest of the world.”
In other words, grape picking in this country is so shit paid that it can only be done by abusing desperate Third World labourers.
Workers under the RSE Work Policy may return to work in New Zealand at a future time provided they have not previously breached the conditions of their RSE work permit conditions.
The Labour Department smugly observes:
“The possibility of returning the following season will encourage workers to play by the rules”.
There’s no corresponding obligation for the employers to play by rules that disadvantage them.
Employers “may choose to pay their workers’ entire airfare”.
But the bosses’ other legal option is that:
“During the course of employment deductions may be made from workers’ wages for half of that airfare.”
Such deductions are the means by which minimum wage protection is torn away.
Overseas employees are not eligible for free New Zealand health care except under ACC. The Labour Department washes it hands of any responsibility by suggesting:
“Employers are encouraged to organise health insurance for their workers.”
Wages and conditions for workers in New Zealand horticulture have been atrocious for years. Underpayment and non payment in the industry has caused local workers to avoid the fields and orchards of this country. Even in a recession.
The International Trade Union Confederation’s 12 June 2009 report on Core Labour Standards in New Zealand comments:
“Cases of forced labour continue to be reported in horticulture, viticulture and in prostitution. Additional government inspections are required to eliminate such core labour standards violations. Minimum wage protections need to be reinforced in respect of workers on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.”
The pro boss New Zealand Labour Department policies’ quoted in this article show the futility of “additional government inspections”. Until there’s some serious union organising on the sites in New Zealand horticulture the injustice to all workers will continue and most likely get worse.
The RSE scheme is nothing less than brutal racist capitalist oppression.
The Council of Trade Unions should follow up their criticism of the scheme by creating some new paid organiser positions to work among local and immigrant horticultural workers.