The success and reputation of New Zealand’s horticulture industry is a direct result of its people. If our people thrive, so too does the sector.
Unfortunately, reports this week of labour contractors exploiting migrant workers were a violation of the “good employer” standards and pastoral care that industry holds itself to.
The New Zealand horticulture industry has a zero tolerance policy for poor employer behaviour. This disappointing behaviour has a widespread impact on the credibility of the industry and the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, as well as on employers who, for the most part, go out of their way to care for and nurture their people.
While industry and government are addressing the issue, the case serves as a stark reminder to us all: Being able to employ people from Pacific is a privilege, not a right. Each and every employer plays a role in protecting that privilege by caring for and treating workers with respect.
Businesses must take responsibility to ensure they are operating in line with legal obligations – including and ensuring that the contractors we engage are operating in accordance with those obligations too. Thorough due diligence around contractor use is essential.
Employers’ duty of care not only encompasses their safety and wellbeing, but is also about creating an enduring work environment, a strong culture where employees feel valued and welcome, can learn, upskill and thrive in our industry.
We want to see both RSE workers and local employees returning season after season. To achieve that will require a concerted effort from all employers to not just meet minimum legal requirements, but to be the employer of choice everyone wants to work for – and collectively the industry of choice.
The horticulture industry has an opportunity to work collectively to shape a positive employment narrative and to make the changes needed to ensure we are all operating as responsible, exemplar employers.
These Pacific workers are here to learn skills and earn money to support their families and communities back home. At the same time, they support our industry to grow and prosper. They are an extended whanau.
If you are concerned that someone is employing workers who are not being treated fairly and ethically, you should immediately contact the Labour Inspectorate (call 0800 20 90 20 during business hours).
If the matter relates specifically to migrant worker exploitation, you can also report it to Employment New Zealand by phone (0800 200 088) or by submitting a written report (more information and a link to the reporting form is available here).