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Talking business

by Anthony Haas


Pacific liaison officers could help RSE

Oct 22, 2008


Contingency plans should be being prepared for a possible reduction in the number of seasonal workers coming from overseas to work in Marlborough vineyards this season.

The Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) scheme may be affected by local political and business flow on consequences of the international financial crisis – even though Labour or National led governments may want ‘win win’ features of the young scheme to remain.

NZ First leader Winston Peters, on the election campaign trail, has called generally for job opportunities to be available to New Zealanders before new immigrants.

RSE was designed to enable employers in the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit from overseas to meet labour shortages, if there are no New Zealanders available.

Marlborough wine industry employers, already grappling with improvements to RSE, will be trying to assess changes in their business outlook – and may attempt short term decisions to invest in fewer Pacific Island workers.

Within months prospective employers will need to advise how many seasonal workers they want to recruit, and individuals will need to know if they have jobs pruning vines in Marlborough next winter.

A fortnight ago Marlborough wine industry spokesperson Gerald Hope said he likes the idea of Pacific Island liaison officers helping provide pastoral care under the RSE scheme. Under the “continuous improvement” approach of NZ’s Department of Labour (DoL) to the RSE, Marlborough wine interests can use PI liaison officers to help sort out how they improve arrangements for their seasonal workers.

Immigration minister Clayton Cosgrove said 78 percent of the 4,641 of the RSE workers who came to New Zealand this year were from Pacific Forum countries.

In his 30 September statement on changes to RSE, Mr Cosgrove said DoL, which oversees the scheme, is “looking at the merits of establishing liaison officers to assist with effective communication between workers and employers and pastoral care providers.”

Mr Hope since said at least one New Zealand based Pacific Islands’ consultancy was making enquiries about offering a pastoral care service on a basis yet to be formally proposed, agreed and funded.

The wine industry wants to reduce the burden it currently is expected to bear of both financing and providing the pastoral care, and the making ready of Pacific Island seasonal workers before they left the Islands Mr Hope said.

Ideally the Island governments and their backers should pay to make workers ready he said. He preferred that the NZ government help finance pastoral care contracts, such as are now being mooted by consultancies who have seen a business opportunity.

Briefing papers released under the Official Information Act from Labour Minister Trevor Mallard to Asia Pacific Economic News in September said in supporting Pacific development, NZAID is exploring support for targeted training for RSE workers, “focusing first on basic, rights-based training (literacy and numeracy)”.

Immigration Minister Mr Cosgrove said on 30 September “There will be improvements to pre-departure orientation information for RSE workers so they will know what to expect upon arrival in New Zealand.”

Mr Cosgrove said changes will be made to enhance pastoral care planning. “In addition to existing requirements, employers will need plans to ensure good cross cultural communication, and effective and fair dispute resolution.”

Employers are required to show how they plan to address pastoral care, including transportation, induction, accommodation, access to personal banking, protective equipment, onsite facilities, necessary language translation, and opportunity for recreation and religious observance. Experience suggests, DoL said, there are additional pastoral care challenges for which employers need to consider and plan. These include supervision, care and management of workers and cross cultural communication at work and outside of work. Management of periods where work is reduced, including aspects such as the impact on workers’ overall net income, budgeting to cover ongoing costs and out of work activities also need to be added in employers’ plans. Provision of issues resolution processes has also been acknowledged as necessary by the DoL officials.

A key benefit of liaison officers would be in providing assistance when things go wrong. Some workers have reported they feel uncomfortable raising issues with employers or other New Zealanders. Liaison officers could facilitate early resolution of issues.

NZ RSE employers have the primary responsibility for responding to employment and pastoral care issues. Some employers have established “Councils of Chiefs”, who are respected senior members of the workforce who represent the workers with the employer.

Liaison officers could assist with orientation and induction. They could have a role in ensuring workers understand the terms and conditions of their employment and in managing workers’ expectations DoL said.

Planning was hard enough for stakeholders in the RSE scheme. Political and business winds of change have made planning that much harder.


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