During the policy review process, stakeholders were asked to provide feedback on multiple different proposals within each of the 6 ‘worker focus’ workstreams. A range of views were received on the proposals.
There is support for improving the accommodation standards, if there are appropriate transitional arrangements and flexibility
Submitters generally favoured updating the standards for clarity and consistency. Many submitters including the HRC, Pacific communities, unions and some workers expressed strong concerns about the quality of accommodation provided to RSE workers. Many employers reported confusion around how the standards apply alongside the building code and councils’ rules. Most submissions noted the need for appropriate transitional and grandfathering arrangements for existing accommodation that might not meet the updated standards.
Many submissions pointed out that different types of accommodation worked well for RSE, and the standards need to accommodate these differences. Some submissions disagreed with a more prescriptive approach and requested flexibility in how the underlying aims of the standards could be met (for example, whether the need for indoor recreational space could be met through increasing bedroom sizes if workers want to watch TV in their bedrooms rather than a common area). Some submitters also noted that the standards should recognise where certain arrangements such as catered meals would reduce the need to have kitchen space for all workers to cook at the same time.
Some submissions questioned whether purpose-built should be viewed as a ‘preferred’ option for RSE accommodation. However, in areas where residential housing cannot be used for RSE workers unless already included in a pre-2019 Agreement to Recruit, purpose-built accommodation is effectively the only option for expanding the number of RSE worker places. Submitters that commented on purpose-built accommodation noted the extensive costs involved and noted concerns about how changes in the standards might affect recent new builds.
Most submissions strongly agreed that the standards should require Wi-Fi in accommodation, and many asserted that this should be at no cost to the worker. Many employers reported that they already provide Wi-Fi in accommodation for workers. This option was particularly important to the Pacific due to the connection back to the worker’s home country.
There were very mixed views on whether the use of bunk beds should continue to be permitted. While some submitters did not view bunk beds as appropriate, others pointed out they could be designed for adult use (such as in army/police barracks). Feedback from some Pacific countries and workers indicated that comfortable and basic accommodation (including bunks) may be adequate, if it minimised costs to the worker.
Many employers also focussed on the high costs involved in building and providing accommodation, particularly given the freeze on costs that can be charged to workers. Feedback from Pacific countries showed a strong preference for keeping costs consistent, transparent and affordable for workers.
Although there was general support for a requirement to provide workers with more pre-arrival details about their accommodation, some submitters raised that the requirement to provide photos would cause them logistical difficulties, as they could not guarantee that the photos would be of the exact room and configurations that the worker would actually have once they arrived.
Feedback on publicly funded healthcare
Several RSE employers, workers, Pacific governments, Pacific communities and the HRC recommended that RSE workers should have access to publicly funded healthcare. Several RSE employers and some industry bodies recommended that the tax rate of RSE workers be increased to enable partial or full access to publicly funded healthcare.
Feedback on health insurance
All stakeholders agreed that the health insurance currently provided is not sufficient, and specific suggestions were made as to what could be included. All stakeholders also agreed that the insurance requirements should be standardised, and clarity provided to employers, workers and the Pacific on what it covers. RSE workers were particularly concerned at the cost of health insurance, and requested clarity as to what benefit it provides them. Feedback from workers is that the insurance does not appear to meet their actual health needs when they arise, and that the cost is too high especially when they may not be using it on a regular basis. Pacific governments and RSE workers agreed that the standard should be lifted but the cost to the worker be kept at the current level or lower.
The HRC, some unions and Pacific communities were in favour of the RSE employer subsidising health insurance, while RSE employers and industry bodies were not. Pacific governments also noted anecdotal evidence that returning workers may return with health issues that would put pressure on the fragile health care systems in Pacific countries and recommended that insurance companies are enabled to disclose information that may assist Pacific countries in mitigating these risks.
Feedback on screening and removing the blanket ban on HIV+ applicants
Pacific governments noted that stringent health screening requirements and high costs entailed are barriers to worker participation in the scheme and requested that we consider relaxing the requirement on x-ray screening by extending the period of validity for x-ray certificates particularly for returning workers. They also noted that approved health centres are limited in labour sending countries, and that if these were increased the cost for workers could be further reduced.
Removing the blanket ban on HIV+ applicants was uncontroversial, except to one Pacific country who recommended it remain.
Feedback on pastoral care standards
Pacific governments, communities, workers, the HRC, some industry bodies and many RSE employers noted the importance of improving the pastoral care in the scheme. Clarity was requested by RSE employers, workers, and Pacific governments. The importance of culturally appropriate pastoral care, as well as the importance of reflecting the Pacific voice and worker voice was also noted by many. Several noted the existing support tended to be provided by team leaders in pastoral care.
There was diversity of views from stakeholders on food provided by employers. For many, the worker’s choice was a key theme, noting that many prefer to supply their own food at a lower cost than what might be provided by the employer. For others, the health of RSE workers was noted and the health benefits, as well as in some cases the efficiency, of the employer providing nutritious food for workers as opposed to the workers supplying their own, less nutritious food.
Some RSE employers cited higher pastoral care standards as a potential area of inequity, however, between RSE workers and New Zealand workers, and some were of the view that pastoral care standards do not need to be lifted.
Feedback on pastoral care plans
A requirement for pastoral care plans was supported by the vast majority of stakeholders, as enabling accountability, a measure of consistency while noting the diversity of employer arrangements across the scheme, and a clear standard for the pastoral care provided. The role of Pacific Liaison Officers in development of the template as well as having sight of the plans provided by employers was also a consistent theme.
Feedback on pastoral care workers
A requirement for pastoral care workers was supported by RSE workers, Pacific governments, communities, and some RSE employers. Several were of the view that pastoral care workers should be from the Pacific, ideally from the workers’ home country. RSE workers as well as some RSE employers noted that having both male and female pastoral care workers available was important. Some unions and the HRC recommended that this worker should be independent from the employer.
Feedback on advice/support mechanism for employers
Many employers reiterated the need for further support in the area of pastoral care, especially for those new to the scheme.
This support largely took the form of greater guidance about what is generally expected of employers when it comes to the pastoral care of workers. Ideally, this would be delivered through training or professional development workshops dealing with specific examples of how to demonstrate good pastoral care and what is appropriate in certain situations.
Rights and exploitation
Feedback on Pacific codes of conduct and human rights and employment law
The vast majority of RSE employers agreed that clarity on Pacific codes of conduct and their own obligations in light of employment law and human rights would be welcomed. Clarity on rules around drinking alcohol and kava, and on curfews were mentioned. The appropriate response to worker misconduct was queried by several employers, who noted that there was often tension between the expectations of the Pacific sending country and New Zealand employment law.
There were some reports from workers that employers may not always allow them to leave the region when they are not working (for example while on leave to visit family in another part of New Zealand). Several workers also noted that they wished to hold on to their own health insurance cards.
Feedback on clear information for workers
Stakeholders agreed with the need for clarity for workers predeparture, as well as a clear set of supports available to workers throughout their experience on the scheme. Some recommended anonymous worker surveys as an assurance mechanism. The HRC also recommended information posters and a helpline for workers. Many workers requested the contact details for a direct line to MBIE, to raise concerns when they have them.
Feedback on contracts
Some unions recommended that workers should be given a right of return clause in their contracts. They recommended that union membership be ‘opt-out’, as part of the contract. The HRC also noted the importance of workers’ right to join a union and recommended standardised contracts for all workers. Both the HRC and some unions noted that the risk of not being reselected by employers for future seasons was a barrier to them joining unions, which risked their overall human rights protection.
Pacific governments, the HRC and some unions noted that workers are sometimes sent home before the original end date of their contract, which had a negative effect on the worker and was seen to be a breach of their rights. Some recommended that in these circumstances the remaining length of the contract should be ‘paid out’ to the worker.
Feedback on further clarity in policy
A clear policy on cost-sharing arrangements between RSE employers and workers was strongly supported by the vast majority of stakeholders, and in particular the need for the RSE employer to stick to what has been agreed with the worker.
A restricted set of allowable deductions, captured in a standardised deductions form was strongly supported by most stakeholders including RSE workers, all Pacific Island countries, the HRC and most RSE employers. One industry body opposed the introduction of a standardised deductions template. It also suggested a schedule of allowable deductions would be unnecessarily restrictive, as some employers assist RSE workers with upfront costs. Some RSE employers noted that workers may in this case be at greater risk financially if they borrowed from other lenders, potentially at interest.
Capping deductions at a certain percentage of wages received some support, although a protected earnings threshold was suggested as an alternative
Capping deductions at a certain percentage of workers’ earnings was supported by Pacific governments, workers, Pacific communities, one industry body and the HRC. It was not supported by many RSE employers or other industry bodies.
Some RSE employers and industry bodies recommended that a protected earnings threshold be introduced, to ensure RSE workers receive an acceptable minimum income in the hand (for example, after any deductions) in any pay period. One industry body noted that using a percentage rather than a protected earnings threshold risked some workers receiving significantly less earnings than they may be able to survive on in some weeks. A protected earnings threshold, however, would ensure base level of income even where the worker is unable to work due to sickness or injury.
Feedback on further prescription in policy
The Labour Inspectorate and one Pacific government supported prescribing flexi-fares, while some RSE employers did not. The Pacific governments suggested a flight package could be negotiated with airlines for RSE workers.
Feedback on spreading deductions over a certain period
Most stakeholders acknowledged the common issue of deductions being recovered in the workers’ first few weeks or months in the scheme, limiting or negating their remittances during this period. However, some noted that many workers prefer to pay off their deductions balance as soon as possible in order to start earning. Worker choice in this area was noted as an essential element to any new policy. The Pacific governments recommended that deductions be spread over at least 6 or 12 weeks at the worker’s choice. Some RSE employers noted that the employer is ‘out of pocket’ until the deductions have been fully recovered.
RSE employers generally opposed an overall shift to the balance of costs towards the employer, and raising minimum wage requirements over time
The vast majority of RSE employers opposed shifting the overall balance of costs towards the employer, away from the worker. Consistently raised was the concern that the horticulture and viticulture industries were already facing significant and sustained cost pressures, and the imposition of further costs was unjustified, and would cause further damage to the industries and export competitiveness. The rationale for such a shift was also questioned, given the higher level of benefits already required for RSE workers.
The majority of RSE employers opposed an overall raising of minimum wage requirements over time. Several employers highlighted the indexation of the RSE wage threshold to the New Zealand minimum wage as an example of recent (unwelcome) increases to costs, although some other RSE employers thought that indexation was a reasonable measure.
Employers also proposed other flexibility options to aid the employer, including removal of the requirement for workers to be paid a minimum of 30 hours a week, and the ability to average remuneration over a number of weeks to be reinstated.
Several stakeholders were generally in favour of a shifting more of the balance of costs towards employers
RSE workers, Pacific governments and communities, the HRC, ILO and unions supported a shift in the balance of costs in the scheme. Many RSE workers consider that all costs currently deducted for should be split 50/50 between the employer and the worker. RSE workers in the Hawke’s Bay requested that the minimum hours per week be increased to 40 hours per week, and some Pacific governments reiterated this request.
Stakeholders including RSE workers and Pacific governments reported that workers often retain the same payrates after several years in the scheme. They highlighted the need to recognise team leaders, supervisors, drivers, and more experienced workers through higher rates of pay. This was emphasised as particularly important for individuals with potential afterhours responsibilities or additional duties (for example, team leaders accompanying sick workers to medical treatment after hours).
Additionally, some unions recommended that the minimum RSE wage be increased to the living wage, and that piece rates be standardised. The HRC recommended that 100% of flights should be covered by the employer, health should be covered by the government, Fand food and minimum accommodation should be covered by the worker. The ILO recommended that recruitment costs including flights should be covered by the employer, in line with their Fair Recruitment Guidelines.