System focus

During the policy review process, stakeholders were asked to provide feedback on multiple different proposals within each of the five ‘system focused’ workstreams. A range of views were received on the proposals.

RSE worker cap

Employers generally favour cap removal, and a market-centred approach to cap setting

With some exceptions, employer submissions generally favoured the removal of the cap and reliance on market forces to determine the number of RSE workers who enter New Zealand each year. They considered that the cap limits growth and removing it will enable employers to secure all the productive labour that they need.

If there is to be a cap, most employers favoured it being set 3-yearly and setting the cap well in advance in order to provide increased certainty that would provide a stable platform for them to invest in accommodation and for banks to have confidence to lend. It would also allow employers to invest in permanent New Zealand workers if there was certainty about the seasonal workforce.

Some employers were concerned that a multi-year cap would not be accurately reflect the changing nature of labour demand due to labour market volatility and changing weather patterns.

Similarly, a data driven supply/demand model received support from employers, although a risk was identified that it could be inaccurate in out-years due, for example, to weather events.

Some employers acknowledged the effects on Pacific countries labour forces and suggested that the range of countries RSE workers are recruited from could be broadened, both within the Pacific and through expansion of the scheme beyond Pacific countries.

Pacific countries have expressed a range of views regarding the effect of the scheme on their domestic labour markets

Some Pacific countries have expressed reservations about the high number of workers coming to New Zealand on the scheme, and the consequent loss of skills from their own labour markets. Other countries have high unemployment rates and welcome increased labour mobility opportunities.

Worker allocation

Employers seek certainty about worker allocation

If a cap and therefore an allocation process were still to be required, there was strong support for a multi-year allocation. Key elements sought for the allocation process were:

  • transparency
  • an equitable approach that did not favour large employers
  • ensuring that new entrants were not disadvantaged.

There was little support for recent approaches to allocating the cap or for the option of an industry-led allocation process which it was felt would be subject to too many competing interests. 

The option of a performance-based approach to allocation with incentives and sanctions received some support.

Labour Market Test (LMT)

Employers’ primary concern was increased costs and labour access certainty

Employers are generally supportive of the New Zealanders first principle. Employers expressed discomfort with higher level of benefits required for RSE workers but not New Zealand workers. Employers expressed concern over options that further increased this disparity.

Labour market test options that increased costs for employers were generally (but not always) viewed negatively, particularly in regions like the Hawke’s Bay that have been hard hit by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Employers raised concerns with the variations between regions on satisfying the labour market test. There was also concern raised about the need to recognise employers for filling permanent roles with New Zealanders, rather than measuring short-term employment opportunities.

Employers also highlighted general New Zealand labour shortages. A common assertion was that the significantly lower cost of employing New Zealanders would naturally drive efforts to employ New Zealand workers, if they were available, and therefore further policy action in this space was not required.

Several employers supported the removal of labour market testing and relying on the RSE cap as the primary means of managing the effects of RSE on the New Zealand labour market.

There was deep opposition to the RSE standard of employment option. Employers saw this as a significant and unjustified departure from New Zealand employment law, effectively setting a new minimum wage and requirements for New Zealand workers of RSE employers. The wage costs associated with such a requirement were the primary concern.

Compliance system

Submitters generally supported the options for change to the compliance system

All submitters agreed that those in breach should be sanctioned. There was considerable support for the majority of the options.

Some submitters expressed some doubt about whether incentives for good performance would be too difficult to develop and implement, or create uncertainty or potential unfairness in that it might favour larger employers with greater resources. Other submitters favoured incentives as a means to drive better performance. RSE employers often referenced existing standards frameworks such as New Zealand Good Agricultural Practice (NZGAP) as effective means of assessment to qualify for incentives.

All submitters agreed that there was insufficient compliance resource for RSE in government, which was said to be facilitating opportunities for non-compliance.
There was support for graduated sanctions, assistance to rectify mistakes, and greater clarity in responsibilities for the parties involved, and requirements on employers.
All submitters were in favour of increasing worker voice. Several RSE employers acknowledged potential power imbalances in the current system, which made expressing concerns difficult for employees.

Ideas on how to improve worker voice included:

  1. More language appropriate induction information on New Zealand employment law, including union membership and avenues for raising issues.
  2. More information provided in workplaces on employment law and union membership, with contact details for the 0800 number for migrant exploitation.
  3. Allowing unions easy access to employees in their workplaces (for example, employers not seeking to delay or deny access unreasonably).
  4. Development of independent worker representatives as discussed by the Tripartite Group.
  5. Use of anonymous surveys (such as the Ask Your Team surveys already in use by the sector).
  6. More resources for Pacific Liaison Officers.


Submitters supported increased flexibility in the scheme

There was strong support for increased flexibility in the RSE scheme including the ability for RSE workers to move between roles, location, regions and employers without a new Agreement to Recruit being required.

There was universal support for multi-entry RSE visas so that workers may return home for a short period during the season for bereavements or significant events.
The option for multi-year visas also received support from both RSE workers and employers, on the condition that both parties could choose whether a worker returns each year.

There was some support from a range of stakeholders for not tying workers’ visas to their employers as a mechanism to reduce the potential for worker exploitation, including from the ILO and HRC. However, many employers expressed concern about the risk of losing their RSE workers to other employers, after their considerable investment in:

  • recruiting workers
  • paying half their airfares
  • induction and training.

Several stakeholders were also concerned that this option posed a risk to the pastoral care being delivered across the scheme.

Some employers also requested that Agreements to Recruit be streamlined or done on a 3-yearly rather than annual basis.