18 Dec 2018

Timely survey on working conditions in horticultural industry

7:05 pm on 18 December 2018

Several hundred people have been surveyed just as slavery charges were being laid against Hastings orchard worker.

Janet and Roselyn at RJ Flowers Orchard in Hawkes Bay

Horticultural workers in Hawke's Bay are part of a global pilot project looking at their working conditions. Photo: RNZ Lynda Chanwai-Earle

An insight into how big a problem modern-day slavery might be among horticultural workers in Hawke's Bay could be known by the end of the week.

Workers from five of the region's biggest growers have just been independently surveyed in a pilot study asking them about their working conditions.

It comes as a Hastings orchard worker, Viliamu Samu, better known as Joseph Matamata, was charged on Monday with using 10 Samoan nationals as slaves between 1994 and 2017.

Horticulturists in the region were reluctant to comment on the case, though some questioned why it had taken so long for Mr Samu's alleged offending to come to light.

Many were also curious to know where Mr Samu had operated. The police have so far refused to name companies or locations.

Modern-day slavery was a global issue and New Zealand was not immune, Apples and Pears New Zealand business development manager Gary Jones said.

Several hundred horticultural workers, including many from the Pacific here under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, have been surveyed in the last two weeks about their working conditions as part of a global pilot project being run known as Global GAP, Mr Jones said.

The preliminary results would be shared with the five employers on Friday and would form part of a global survey being trialled to pinpoint countries at risk of worker exploitation. The aim was to eventually survey all horticulture workers about their working conditions, he said.

"We can use smart phones so those workers can do it privately, they can even do it once they've returned to the islands.

"What we believe could happen is the legitimate employers that may be using contractors can demand, under the supply contracts with those contractors, that they have to survey all their workers," Mr Jones said.

Meanwhile, recruiting more workers from the Pacific under the RSE scheme would help to stop exploitation, he said.

Mr Jones, who helped organise Pacific workers in Hawke's Bay under the RSE scheme, said more needed to be done to educate growers who used contract labour.

Allowing more workers under the RSE would prevent exploitation of vulnerable workers, because RSE employers were well vetted, he said.

"RSE was originally designed to crowd out illegal workers and create less space for this to occur, and it's done this magnificently well, so it's actually the solution."

In November, the government increased the number of workers that can be brought to New Zealand under the RSE scheme by an extra 1750 people.

It was hoped an extra 500 to 600 would land in Hawke's Bay.

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