29 Sep 2015

Hundreds of Filipino farm workers under scrutiny

5:52 am on 29 September 2015

Hundreds of Filipino workers on dairy farms are under scrutiny after authorities in the Philippines revealed dozens have arrived on visas based on false documents.

Organic Jersey cow on a Rongotea farm.

Hundreds of Filipino workers on dairy farms here are under scrutiny after the revelations. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

A Filipino diplomat has confirmed to Radio New Zealand that immigration officials in this country are heading an investigation into what is going on, although the department has refused to confirm this.

They are looking into claims some of the men paid as much as $15,000 to a recruiter who falsified work experience and qualifications in a bid to get them a better job.

The investigation began after workers raised questions about the documents they were given to re-apply for work visas.

Earl Magtibay from the Filipino Dairy Workers Association here said the government was particularly interested in one recruiter who had brought in 150 workers to the South Island alone.

"Most have false documents, like their training experience is less than what they have accounted for," he said. "There were these seven people who came in December, who were given false contracts, [and] false employers."

Mr Magtibay said he has been told the recruiter was responsible for 80 percent of the cases being investigated.

Authorities have asked him to liaise with workers and provide information to the investigation.

He was now hearing stories of people paying exorbitant placement fees, hoping to work on the best farms.

"Some will have paid like, $10,000. It's not normal, but they go through that extra length just to be here in a better place," he said. "They have a mindset that they will eventually earn this and pay it back."

Hans Cacdac heads the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, based in Manila.

He was alerted to the fake document scam about two weeks ago, when the New Zealand and Philippine governments signed an agreement to give greater protection to the more than 10,000 Filipinos here on temporary visas.

That is a number both countries say is rising.

The agreement is supposed to make sure labour recruiters are complying with employment and immigration rules in both countries.

The Philippine's Labor attaché in Australia, Rodolfo Sabulao, said two days after the agreement was signed, officials from both governments met with Filipino dairy workers in Ashburton and told them to co-operate with the investigation being led by Immigration New Zealand.

Mr Cacdac said they know the false documents were submitted by the workers but they don't know who made them, or where.

"What we were told is that the document was produced or submitted by the worker in the process of work application. As to whether there is culpability by elements under New Zealand or the Philippines side is something we need to find out," he said. "They can go so far as criminal prosecution if we deem it fit, if there are such findings in the process."

Mr Cacdac said the investigation was likely to wrap up next month.