New Zealand will be turning to the Pacific to fill labour gaps in its agricultural sector as the government announced 3000 more positions under its Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.
This would mean that once this quota is filled there will be 19,000 seasonal workers in New Zealand under this scheme.
While announcing the need for more workers, the New Zealand government also announced policy changes that require employers to provide sick leave alongside the existing $22.10 minimum wage requirement.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Immigration Minister Michael Wood announced the move this week after the weekly Cabinet meeting.
Mr Wood said it amounted to a 19 per cent increase on the previous season and the largest in more than a decade.
He said this showed that the agriculture industry in New Zealand was growing.
“We are listening to industry, and worked closely with horticulture and wine sectors to ensure we strike the right balance by incentivising local employment, bringing in further additional workers, and also requiring working conditions to be improved,” he said.
The New Zealand Government will also be taking a policy review next year for the scheme and will bring about more changes to ensure that workers are not exploited.
Ms Ardern said the government knew there were acute workforce pressures which were expected to only worsen. She said the RSE scheme was always designed to be benefit to workers and the New Zealand industry.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the scheme was critical to the recovery of the industry. He said working holiday visas had now topped 30,000 and were continuing to increase.
“The RSE scheme is not designed to completely fill all roles in the horticulture and viticulture industries,” he said.
There is a push from workers unions in New Zealand to stop treating Pacific workers as cheap labour and ensure that all rights bestowed to other workers are given to them.
There have been cases reported in New Zealand about seasonal workers being treated improperly and workers being cramped into one room.
In the most common form of exploitation in New Zealand and Australia, seasonal workers are deducted money for accommodation, transportation and even meals ending up with minimum wages.
The Pacific island workers are happy to work in either of the two nations as the minimum wage can be up to ten times what they can earn in their home countries, and that added to a favourable exchange rate means more for families at home, however, sometimes this is not achieved.
In Samoa, it was announced that 2500 more Samoans would be needed under the seasonal worker schemes, and this has created discussions within the nation about a labour drain.
A week ago in Fiji, New Zealand company Gourmet New Zealand announced more recruitment as well. Outside of tourism, overseas employment is the highest remittance earner in the region and for some countries like Tonga, Tokelau, Niue and Samoa, the largest in earning foreign exchange.