Tukituki MP Anna Lorck says the increased cap on RSE workers is a ‘major boost’ for the Bay.

Tukituki MP Anna Lorck says increasing the number of Registered Seasonal Employers (RSE) workers is a “major boost” to local growers, providing confidence as the sector continues to grow.

The Government has announced the largest increase to the cap on seasonal labour from the Pacific in a decade, allowing an additional 3,000 workers a year to work on the country’s orchards, vineyards and market gardens – a 19%increase on last year.

The new RSE cap will allow access to 19,000 workers annually from participating Pacific countries, a joint statement from Immigration Minister Michael Wood and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said.

The move acknowledges the industry’s current needs based on strong growth, and the lower number of working holiday makers onshore right now, Wood said. 

“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.”

Lorck said she was one of the strongest supporters of the scheme in the Government.

“I know this will make a significant difference for the industry both locally and nationally. Hawke’s Bay growers have been leaders in the field as RSE employers, especially in pastoral care and building purpose built accommodation, along with providing transport,” she said.

Increasing the number of RSE workers supported jobs growth for Kiwis, and there were more young people entering the industry with long term career opportunities than ever before, she said.

President of the Hawke’s Bay Fruit Growers Association Brydon Nisbet said it was excellent news and definitely what the growers had wanted to hear.

“It’s a good number for now. I know Hort NZ and Apple and Pear and KGI have been working hard with Government on these negotiations. The next issue is making sure we have got adequate housing for the RSEs. And of course logistically finding another 3,000 people and getting them over here isn’t an easy task either. But it has brought some extra hope to the industry because we were facing another challenging season.”

Minister Wood said employers will now be required to provide a sick leave entitlement to RSE workers.

Nisbet said new housing units and purpose built RSE accommodation was already getting built now or was about to start and additional requirements for paying sick leave were doable. 

During the pandemic, a border exception was introduced to allow RSEs into the country to assist with harvesting and winter pruning. The exception came with several conditions, including to pay workers at least $22.10 an hour and to pay RSE workers the equivalent of 30 hours work a week.

A spokesman for Minister Wood said the hourly rate, and 30 hours per week requirements remain conditions of the RSE scheme. The sick leave requirement was additional.

Minister Wood is also working urgently with the industry and unions on further short-term improvements and employee safe guards to provide greater protections to workers in addition, the spokesman said.

Border closures during covid drastically reduced the number of RSE workers available (despite a border exception in November 2020, which let in 2,000 Pacific workers) leaving growers desperate and uncertain. Many a crop went unpicked and some growers even pulled up orchards to minimise future risk.

Minister O’Connor said the RSE scheme was 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, improve pay and conditions for workers, and invest in automation,” he said.

 ACT’s Immigration spokesperson James McDowall said the cap on RSEs should be removed completely because it created “untold problems”, including growers fighting over quota leading to delays and disappointment.

“The Government should only be concerned with upholding quality standards, allowing employers and workers to figure out how many people are needed each season.”

Green Party spokesperson for Pacific Peoples, Teanau Tuiono said the new arrangements failed to guarantee Pacific workers a warm place to live, safe working conditions, and good pay.

“The new responsibilities the Government is putting on employers do not go anywhere near far enough to end the exploitation of Pacific peoples who travel to Aotearoa for work.”

He said the scheme was designed to be exploitative, and that RSEs were not guaranteed the same conditions as local workers or other migrant workers.

The Greens want to bin the RSE scheme and replace it with a system that guarantees equitable rights, decent living conditions and pathways to residency.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.


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1 Comment

  1. This is solely designed to keep remunerations for “this very demanding job” (as growers put it) at an absolute minimum. It is a disgrace and kiwi workers should all be up in arms about it. Such schemes drive down wages across the board and ensure growers can continue to take in massive profits.
    For years, growers have been complaining about a shortage of employees for this “physically hard and very demanding” work, yet they are only willing to pay minimum wages. They claim that in contrast to lazy and unreliable kiwi workers, RSE workers work hard. That could well be true but the comparison is ludicrous. In Samoa, the minimum wage is WST3.00/hour whereas in NZ they earn WST35.00/hour (approx. NZ$22.00). Perhaps if growers paid kiwi workers $40/hour, they would have more “luck” attracting hardworking local staff.
    Labour is a neoliberal party (just like National), hellbent on driving wages down and profits up.

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