Minister out of touch, must set RSE numbers urgently

Wed, 18 Sep, 2019

“The Immigration Minister today showed himself to be completely out of touch with the practical reality faced by horticulturalists under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme,” according to ACT Leader David Seymour.

Today, a dozen horticultural businesses wrote to the Minister stating, among other things:

We can only assume that you are unaware that your failure to announce the cap will result in the horticulture businesses that harvest in October and November having to leave a large proportion of their crops rotting in the ground again, as happened last year, when you were late in announcing the cap.

“When asked when the Minister would announce the number of RSE workers allowed into New Zealand over the coming year, the Minister said, twice and patronisingly 'soon'.

“The annual setting of the number of RSE employees is done too late for strawberries in particular, which are harvested in October and November. If the cap is not set several months beforehand, the strawberry sector cannot benefit from it as it takes months to recruit, transport, and train workers once the number allowed for the year is known.

“The Minister dismissed a dozen horticultural growers who have signed an open letter to him as a ‘few’ dissatisfied operators when collectively they employ 2,500 people. It’s an extraordinary lack of perspective.

“However, the number of signatories under-represents the feeling in the sector for concerning reasons. One signatory was ‘anonymous,’ fearing reprisals from Immigration New Zealand officials for complaining, while others were too fearful to sign.

“The Minister doesn’t seem to recognise the practicalities faced by growers. They need to harvest fruit when they’re ripening, not when the Immigration Department gets around to approving visas for their workers.

“The Minister answered in Question Time that he expects RSE employers to provide accommodation to seasonal employees and be good employers. He said they should consider automation and employ local workers. It is almost as though the RSE scheme exists only for employers who don’t need it!

“He seems oblivious to the fact that the Ministry of Social Development supports these employers to access RSE workers. They know there simply aren’t local workers willing and able to do the job.

“Altogether, the Minister is out of touch with the reality the horticulture industry faces and the problems caused to the sector by Immigration New Zealand. He should go to Cabinet this Monday and urgently increase the number of RSE workers so that summer strawberries can be harvested for New Zealand and export markets this year.”