Recently released figures from Federated Farmers have shown that although the number of farms with written contracts between the farmer and farm employees grew by 9% since last year, fewer than a quarter of farms have a contract with their employees and only 40% keep records of the hours their employees’ work.
Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson says the federation will be holding ‘seminars’ throughout the country to educate its members on employment-related matters. But the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) is saying that farm workers need to have independent representation to safeguard their rights.
In addition to farm workers often being in isolated locations where it’s difficult to get advice, the rural workforce in New Zealand has a high proportion of migrant workers working under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. Last year changes were made to the scheme which the union movement said would “result in more blatant exploitation” of workers. Lina Ericsson, a Swedish political scientist who conducted field work among RSE workers in the rural areas near Tauranga found many stories of mistreatment, unpaid wages and other violations of employment rights.
Research conducted by Massey University has shown that agricultural workers have the highest incidence of leukemia of all New Zealand occupation groups. The cause is expected to be exposure to pesticides. With all these factors, the idea of a farm workers union is one whose time has certainly come, what waits to be seen is if the CTU will go beyond the discussion and put resources into making it a reality.