Throughout consultation, general comments on the current operation of the RSE scheme and the nature of the policy review process were received.
The vast majority of stakeholders highlighted the general success of the scheme, while noting areas for general improvement:
Stakeholders including employers, industry bodies, Pacific Governments and Pacific workers have all highlighted the scheme’s success and indicated that industry, RSE workers and the wider Pacific are all benefitting from participation in the scheme.
Employers and industry bodies generally regard the RSE scheme to have achieved the successful management of the seasonal labour supply and enabled industry growth. They generally consider that the scheme has facilitated New Zealanders’ employment and has allowed Pacific workers to support their families and communities.
However, some stakeholders such as Unions and the Human Rights Commission expressed strong concerns about the protection of worker wellbeing in the scheme. Most submitters acknowledge that standards and expectations are shifting with regards to the wellbeing and working conditions of RSE workers. There is a widespread agreement among submitters that the RSE scheme needs to have greater flexibility, clarity, defined and consistent standards, and measurable outcomes. Achieving this would ensure the overall success of the scheme and see meaningful improvements for workers, Pacific countries, and employers who participate in the scheme.
RSE employer feedback often included an overview of their:
- management and processing operations
- projected season outlooks
- individual growth plans.
Many submitters noted experiencing high growth due to having access to a reliable and motivated labour force; enabling effective operation through seasonal highs and lows. Many submissions mentioned the climate and economic challenges faced across the hort/vit industry, referencing the devastating effect of Cyclone Gabrielle. This was the basis for many submitters emphasising the importance of ensuring a balance is met, between raising standards/costs and ensuring the overall cost-effectiveness/profitability of the scheme.
There were some concerns raised relating to our consultation approach and other issues being out of scope of the review including:
Some submitters felt uncertainty about the effectiveness of the review. They felt consultation was rushed so there was a limited timeframe to provide in-depth feedback on the proposed policy options. There was also uncertainty about:
- a perceived lack of robust evidence
- lack of detailed information on the cost implications of the review
- a lack of reliable data or evidence quantifying issues mentioned in some areas.
Submitters particularly wanted to see additional impact analysis to fully understand the repercussions of policy proposals on Pacific nations, RSE workers, and industry.
The majority of employer-aligned submitters felt the burden of costs associated with many of the options was not fairly shared between employers and Government, and these costs would be disproportionately shouldered by employers through:
- increased regulation
- additional costs
- additional compliance requirements.
Some of these submitters considered that higher costs would compromise the long-term sustainability of the RSE scheme by reducing sector profitability. Some also felt the options and their related costs indicated an underlying bias against employers, and raised concerns about the validity of the review as a whole.
Some employer-aligned submitters queried whether material in the consultation documents genuinely reflected Pacific perspectives. These submitters felt that certain references to perspectives of the Pacific were in fact coming directly from the New Zealand Government. Other submitters felt that a collaborative effort between Government, industry, and the Pacific was not being facilitated through the review, to the same degree as was present in the creation of the RSE scheme. They felt that stakeholders were being consulted in isolation, or not at all, which would lead to fragmented policy that would not work for all stakeholders.
There was concern that industry had not directly inputted into the consultation documents. Some submitters believed that objectives, guiding principles, and the scope of the consultation documents would have better reflected the RSE environment and issues, if industry had provided direct input into their development. Some submitters expressed views that the proposed policy options were too focussed on issues relating to government process rather than those directly relating to employers and workers. Submitters wanted to see the policy options, including peripheral changes further reviewed and developed and implemented in partnership with:
- the Pacific countries
- the New Zealand Government
- the industries as key stakeholders.