Employers 'must earn the right' to hire RSE workers

A leading advocate for seasonal workers want to see the horticulture and viticulture industries “earning the right” to hire Pacific workers.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Saunoamaalií Karanina Sumeo, who led an investigation into the mistreatment​ of RSE workers​ last year, says the issues "should have been addressed first" before the scheme resumed this year. 

PMN News reports she claims Pacific countries hold a special kind of power, because countries like New Zealand and Australia need workers more than workers need them.

“It shouldn’t be a relationship where we’re kind of scared we’re going to lose the opportunity. New Zealand needs the Pacific, recognise that power and then exercise accordingly.”

Her comments follow a decision by Samoa to reverse its ban​ this week on allowing seasonal workers to come to New Zealand. It had suspended its participation in the Recognised Seasonal Employment for January pending a review​ into the poor treatment of RSE workers.

The review that was launched late last year was supposed to be presented to the Samoan Cabinet before further decisions were made. A regional seasonal employment scheme sub-committee was appointed by Cabinet to look into the programme.

The RSE scheme has been under fire​ after reports of poor accommodation for workers and concerns over worker safety.

“I prefer that our Pacific countries get some assurance first from New Zealand businesses and the government that our people who come over who do a very important role, they make a huge contribution to the New Zealand economy, get some assurance that would be respect and rights be upheld.”

Saunoamaalií says the issues raised were known to both local Pacific communities and authorities. The Labour Inspectorate, the organisation in charge of making sure that processes and protocols are in place to serve and protect Pacific workers and their employers, would have known for years, she says.

She’s baffled why the scheme has been given the green light by Samoa's Cabinet when they know there are still issues.

“Why is it then it’s been allowed to continue? How have some businesses been able to still bring in workers from the Pacific? They need to earn that.​"