Fruit Picker In New Zealand – New Zealand’s past relationship with the Pacific region is characterized by treachery. Is the RSE scheme that puts Pacific Islanders to work in our orchards and vineyards for several months a year really working or just more?
In less than 10 days the summer fruit ripens, ready to be picked, packed and shipped for sale in Aotearoa and overseas.
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Since 2007, this work has largely been left to Pacific workers through the government’s Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.
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The scheme was created following efforts by Pacific leaders to tackle unemployment and give Pacific people the chance to be based in New Zealand. Called a “win-win development scheme”, it creates a sustainable workforce for New Zealand’s growers while allowing workers (and their families) to thrive in the economy.
Vanuatu has the largest share of the RFB pie (just over 4,000), followed by Tonga (1,900), Samoa (1,800) and the Solomon Islands (640).
And New Zealand companies love it, with many employers praising Pacific workers for their flexibility, strength, stability and quality choice. Growers are now competing to access the Pacific labor pool, prompting calls to expand the RFB quota.
Like everything else, Covid-19 has seriously disrupted the RFB scheme. While 3000 RFB staff have been able to return since our first Covid lockdown, almost 7000 have remained in New Zealand. But with borders closed, companies are scrambling to fill a shortage of more than 10,000 seasonal workers worldwide.
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Fearing huge financial losses to the industry, growers are looking hard at the Pacific Islands, calling on the government to open New Zealand’s borders to thousands more RFB workers to fill the critical gap. Time is of the essence. If the fruit is left to die, it could cost the industry about $9.5 billion.
This approach also seems logical: the Pacific Island countries involved are mostly Covid-free, so they pose little risk to our pre-elimination technique. With many of these islands suffering the economic impact of the pandemic, there is a moral argument that New Zealand should prioritize these workers before, say, granting visa waivers to US billionaire golf course “designers” and celebrity nanny.
But despite these disruptions and potential financial losses, our global pandemic has also given us time to stop and think about the RSE scheme – and to question how some RFB employers see Pacific people and how RSE workers are treated in the Pacific today. operations.
As much as we support Pacific paid work, it has become clear how New Zealand so often relies on Pacific labor for its economy.
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Think back to the 1950s and 1960s, when the government lured the first wave of immigrants from the Pacific to the “land of milk and honey” with the promise of economic prosperity and job opportunities during the post-World War II economic boom.
While many families were willing to cross Te Moana Nui a Kiwa in search of a better life, we must be careful not to romanticize the government’s intentions in a rosy review. Inviting Pacific people to the party was motivated primarily by an economic need to fill a critical labor shortage in low-wage industrial jobs, work that was wholly undesirable to the ever-growing Pākeh middle class.
New Zealand welcomed these families with open arms for nearly two decades, turning a blind eye to long-term carers as long as the economy needed them. It was a capitalist program that turned into generosity. As David Meieda, Tara Leota-Seiuli, and Torise Laulu write, Pacific Islanders were classified as free laborers, “valuable only insofar as they are manual laborers in our textile, janitorial, meatpacking, and factory industries.”
But with the global oil crisis of the 1970s and rapid economic decline, Pacific nations were “othered” and seen as a constant, external threat to New Zealand’s economy. These racist myths presented the Pasifika as parasites on the country’s resources, a view reinforced by political campaigns that portrayed the community as brutal, violent outlaws unable to join the “Kiwi life”.
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In the public eye, Pasifika people became disposable, ready to seize the day, to criminalize and destroy. They were literally and metaphorically expelled from New Zealand society only to be reintroduced into the same socio-economic conditions, including through subsequent work schemes.
In the 13 years since the RFB scheme came into force, our billion-dollar horticulture and viticulture industries have seen significant growth, worth $10 billion and $2.3 billion respectively this year. Much of this success is behind the Pacific workforce. Since 2007, the RFB quota has almost tripled to 13,000 workers per quarter, and the scheme has expanded from three countries to nine.
There is no doubt that RFB employment has affected many workers and their families, as well as the economy at home. Remittances—foreign workers sending income back home—are undoubtedly a very important source of income for many families in the Pacific region.
But you have to wonder why New Zealanders are still reluctant to apply for fruit picking jobs – even in the midst of a national recession.
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Although growers are legally obliged to hire local workers, union organizers regularly cite job insecurity, suspicious employers and low wages (for the labor-intensive) as the main constraints. In fact, the managing director of one kiwifruit packing company openly referred to picking the fruit as a “shit job”.
When the first Covid-19 lockdown began, thousands of migrant workers, including some RFB staff, were stuck in financial trouble in Aotearoa. While many RFB workers were able to remain as essential workers under eleven visa extensions, video and audio recordings of alleged mistreatment of workers in Hawke’s Bay have emerged, revealing what some may suspect is happening behind closed doors.
The image of around 20 Solomon Island workers sitting awkwardly on the floor, heads bowed, as their boss Anthony Rerere mocked the three for allegedly running away, showing a disturbing power imbalance.
The meeting, which was secretly recorded by the staff, is uncomfortable to listen to. Rarer’s power move is visible on the airwaves, his supportive tone making the situation seem less like a “labor dispute” (in his words) and more like a selfish power move by an employer who treats his workers to a contract military bar.
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Unfortunately, the workers returned home before MBIE could properly investigate their claims. Details of conflicts of interest, breaches of confidentiality and the operation of the scheme as “Cuba” later emerged.
Hearing about these stories of migrant worker exploitation, we couldn’t help but feel that they were disturbingly reminiscent of when New Zealand and other colonial powers used Pacific bodies for their economic gain. Contrary to what many might believe, this legacy of colonialism goes back further than the attraction of Pacific migrants in the 1950s and 1960s.
The colonial context in which the RSE scheme and other migrant labor schemes operate goes back 150 years to the practice of “black labor” or “indentured labour”, the enslavement (often by force or deception) of islanders in the South Pacific to work on cotton and cane to rural Queensland, Fiji and Samoa, and sometimes further afield in South America.
It is estimated that more than 62,000 workers from Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands “recruited” Australia’s “blackwings”, although the true numbers remain unknown.
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Although there is some controversy as to whether grouse can be classified as a slave trade, it is not inconceivable that thousands of Pacific Islanders were systematically used in labor schemes or assets, resulting in many deaths.
There is a general amnesia about New Zealand’s involvement with blackwings. However, the government was involved in the recruitment, kidnapping and smuggling of black and brown people to plantations in the South Pacific and Queensland between 1860 and 1870, involving at least 32 ships.
K – not only land and resources, but also brown bodies. Let’s not forget the 144 Tongans kidnapped from Ata Island by Australian and New Zealand whalers and then sold to Peruvian slave traders.
Blackbirding, like any slave economy, was rooted in white supremacy – the Pacific Islands were considered the main labor reserves, where thousands of people were forced to work on plantations and paid wages for their work.
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There is strong evidence showing how groups of Melanesians from Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands were forced to work in New Zealand in the belief that greater economic “opportunities” existed.
A “cargo of coconuts and 27 men from the Western Islands [Vanuatu] from Efate” stopped at Auckland Harbour. According to the captain himself, he paid “douceurs” (bribes) to the chiefs of the islands in order for them to get their “cargo”. The mission was documented by Auckland financier Edward Brissenden, who used the men as free labor in his flax mill in West Auckland.
Wrote an editorial that was equal parts disturbing and disturbing. While they called men “niggers”
Warned that the “introduction of island labour” had opened up “a new aspect of the labor question”. It was “liberated” labor, he wrote, adding that “if the masters cannot hire white labor, [then] this is no country for the workers.”
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. . . there is currently no rule of law control. The men themselves are completely ignorant of this
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