22 Aug 2016

Pacific and NZ unions left out of Pacific labour meeting

5:25 pm on 22 August 2016

Regional trade unions have raised concerns about the lack of representation of workers at the inaugural Pacific labour meeting which takes place this week in Christchurch.

Pacific Islands workers have been described as invaluable to New Zealand's horticulture and viticulture industries.

Pacific Islands workers have been described as invaluable to New Zealand's horticulture and viticulture industries. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

The meeting on Pacific labour mobility was supposed to take place ahead of ministerial meetings of the PACER Plus trade negotiations taking place later in the week.

Both the New Zealand and Australian Council of Trade Unions as well as the South Pacific Council of Trade Unions voiced their concerns at not being allowed to participate in the labour mobility meeting.

NZCTU secretary Sam Huggard said it was not possible to achieve a good outcome for Pacific workers without the voices of those workers at the table.

Recognised Seasonal Employers scheme workers from Fiji taken a short break from picking pears in a Twyford orchard owned by RJ Flowers.

Recognised Seasonal Employers scheme workers from Fiji taken a short break from picking pears in a Twyford orchard owned by RJ Flowers. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Mr Huggard said New Zealand unions had supported the seasonal workers scheme when it came in in the mid 2000s on certain conditions.

He said this included that Pacific workers would be well treated and not under paid and that there would be an industry wide approach to improving conditions in the sector.

"We have felt a little bit let down to be fair by some of those industries and the employers in those industries. And so we want a focus to make sure that workers are really aware of their rights and information. Both pre-departure from their home country but also the ability to get organised and be supported in New Zealand to make sure they are getting paid properly for what they do and that it is a genuinely developmental opportunity."

RSE worker offloads apples into a crate in a Hawke's Bay orchard.

RSE worker offloads apples into a crate in a Hawke's Bay orchard. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

As to the content of the meeting, Sam Huggard said the limited information available suggested it was being called because some countries were reluctant to have binding labour commitments included in the proposed PACER PLUS trade deal.

Sam Huggard said ironically the NZCTU would support this position as it felt people were not commodities and should not be part of any trade arrangements.

He said the NZCTU was pushing for strong bilateral arrangements with a focus on better conditions for Pacific workers including opportunities for development and training.

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