Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough
Government raises cap on RSE scheme
Immigration Minister Michael Wood has announced ‘‘the largest increase to the RSE scheme in over a decade’’.
The scheme, which brings seasonal workers to New Zealand from across the Pacific, will increase by 3000 places.
The announcement came as the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme faced scrutiny for leading to overcrowded and poor living conditions for some of the workers who have come to New Zealand.
The Labour Inspectorate has investigated at least 16 workplaces, responding to concerns about the treatment of workers.
Food processors in the North Island have been charging employees more than $100 a week to live in a school campground with others. And in Marlborough, a group of horticulture workers became sick after paying $150 a week to live in a ‘‘freezing and damp’’ room with six others.
Some of those workers told the Inspectorate they had been exploited.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government would tidy up the RSE scheme.
‘‘With more workers comes more responsibility, and rightly so,’’ Ardern said, announcing the 3000 worker increase.
‘‘We know that there are acute workforce pressures on these sectors at the moment, which will only intensify further as we come into summer. At the same time, many of our Pacific neighbours are keen to see the RSE scheme strengthened.’’
Wood said the Government was working ‘‘urgently’’ to improve the conditions for RSE workers. He said discussions were underway between employers, unions and the Government.
On Tuesday, he also announced a new requirement for RSE workers to be given sick leave entitlements. He said the sick leave entitlements, along with previous moves to increase the minimum hourly pay to $22, would improve working conditions for seasonal workers.
The scheme allowed certain numbers of workers to come from Pacific Islands, and stay for up to seven months.
The 3000 extra places, announced on Tuesday would permit up to 19,000 seasonal workers at a time. The cap has been 16,000, which the horticulture sector has said was not enough.
Green Party Pacific Peoples spokesperson Teanau Tuiono said the RSE scheme was designed to be ‘‘exploitative’’ and would continue to be, without major reform.
‘‘Only this morning we heard another story about the exploitation of Pacific peoples travelling to Rotorua for work. These stories are shocking and are exactly why we need more than small tweaks,’’ he said.
The RSE scheme meant eligible horticultural and viticultural companies were able to hire workers from the Pacific to help process and harvest crops.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said those industries had struggled through staffing shortages.
‘‘The RSE scheme is not designed to completely fill all roles in the horticulture and viticulture industries. This cap maintains pressure on RSE employers to continue recruiting New Zealanders where possible,’’ he said.
O’Connor said the opening of New Zealand’s border, to allow for holiday workers, would also benefit these industries.