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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No.3—Immigration

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT): My question is to the Minister of Immigration, to whom I’d like to wish a very happy 40th birthday.

3. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Immigration: Is he satisfied with the performance of the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): I thank the member for his birthday wishes; it’s 41, not 40. I say to the member [Interruption]—and sounding every bit of it, I suspect. I say to the member that if he wants to bring his own curry, he’d be welcome to join me for celebrations during the dinner break this evening. The Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (RSE) provides an important source of income for many of our Pacific neighbours and an important source of workers for our horticulture and viticulture industries. The RSE scheme has been recognised by the World Bank and others as a model for circular migration schemes. The scheme is now 12 years old and due for a refresh. This year, at my direction, Immigration New Zealand undertook an operational review that has led to process improvements. Further policy work that aims to improve outcomes for employers, RSE workers, and New Zealanders is under way; I expect to announce progress on this in due course.

David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to table a letter, dated today, sent from 12 horticultural growers to the Minister stating that they are certainly not satisfied with the performance of the RSE scheme.

SPEAKER: The member has permission from each of those signatories?

David Seymour: Yes, that’s right.

SPEAKER: He does. Shall leave be granted; is there any objection?

Hon Iain Lees-Galloway: Yes, it’s in the public domain.

SPEAKER: It’s in the public domain? It’s on a website or something?

Hon Iain Lees-Galloway: It is, yes. I’ve got it here.

SPEAKER: Now, I’m going to ask David Seymour: did he know it was on a website?

David Seymour: No, Mr Speaker. It was sent to some media outlets at 1 p.m. It was, of course, conceivable they could have—but I hadn’t detected any publication before I came to question time.

David Seymour: How can the Minister be satisfied with the performance of the RSE scheme when feedback he’s receiving from people in the sector is: “We can only assume that you are unaware that your failure to announce the [number of RSE places this year] 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 [on the number of RSE workers].”?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, I’d say that’s the view of a small minority of employers in the sector, but I would also point out to the member that it is now September, and, in the entire history of the RSE scheme, I can only detect one year when the cap increase was announced earlier than September.

David Seymour: Does the Minister doubt that failing to get the number of RSE workers announced before the harvest starts leaves growers with a labour shortage, unable to harvest their crops, and their crops rotting in the ground, as happened last year?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: People can source labour from all sorts of different areas. The RSE scheme only provides about 20 percent of the workforce for the horticulture and viticulture industries. If some employers are struggling to find workers, I suggest they look at things like the use of casual contracts, the use of piece rates, and the way they advertise those jobs to make sure that those jobs are more attractive—especially those who are located in South Auckland, where there is a large number of people available to do seasonal work.

Marja Lubeck: What are the Minister’s expectations of RSE employers?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Last year, I laid down a number of challenges to RSE employers, encouraging them to work with the Government to provide more worker accommodation, to look at better use of automation, and to look at the wages and conditions that they provide across their sector to make their jobs more attractive. I have to say, many of those employers are responding to those challenges, but there is certainly a lot more work that needs to be done.

David Seymour: Is the Minister saying that even when employers have had all of their accommodation inspected, when they have met all of the conditions for being a recognised seasonal employer, when the Ministry of Social Development has produced an opinion that their labour needs cannot be satisfied within the local labour market, they still cannot access enough Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme workers to get their crops harvested before they rot?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I am aware that some employers have raised issues with the way in which the workers who come to New Zealand under the RSE scheme—those numbers—are allocated from employer to employer. That is certainly something that I intend to consider as part of the refresh and policy work that is currently under way.

David Seymour: Does the Minister recognise that fruits need to be harvested when they are ripe, not when the bureaucracy of Government is ready to approve visas for workers to come and harvest them; and, in light of that, will—?

SPEAKER: Order! Order! That’s two legs already.

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Yes, which is why last year we increased the cap by 1,750, which is around 16 percent, and the year before we increased the cap by 600, which was around 6 percent. I compare that with the period of time between 2008 and 2014, when the previous Government didn’t raise it at all.

Stuart Smith: Is the Minister going to raise the RSE cap; and, if so, by how much?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The member will just have to wait a few more sleeps. That decision will be out soon.

Stuart Smith: When is the Minister going to announce the RSE cap?