Employers hiring Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme workers hit with improvement notices for employment law breaches

RSE-accredited companies around the country have been issued with 20 improvement notices by the Labour Inspectorate in ...
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RSE-accredited companies around the country have been issued with 20 improvement notices by the Labour Inspectorate in the past three years. (File photo)

Employers taking on migrant workers as part of a Government-sponsored work programme have been stung by a raft of improvement notices over the past three years. 

Figures from the Labour Inspectorate show 20 improvement notices have been issued to Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) companies for breaches including non-compliant wage and time records to incorrect holiday pay.

The RSE scheme was set up 10 years ago to provide assistance to the Pacific Islands, as well as filling a need for seasonal workers in New Zealand across industries like horticulture and viticulture.

In Marlborough, the scheme is critical to the success of the wine industry. A report last year found RSE-accredited vineyard contractors were responsible for servicing 75 per cent of the vineyard estate.

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A joint sting last year involving the Inspectorate audited nine RSE contractors in the region, all of which were found to be compliant with employment law. However, concerns have been raised by worker advocates.

Labour Kaikoura candidate Janette Walker, an outspoken critic of employment practices in the wine industry, said Labour would look at ways to improve the scheme as part of a review of its immigration policies. 

The Government also announced harsher penalties for RSE-accredited employers earlier this year. Those found breaching employment or immigration law would face a stand-down period before recruiting migrant workers again.

The stand-down period, anywhere from six months to two years, would apply if employers incurred employment standard-related penalties, such as an infringement notices from the Labour Inspectorate. 

The figures released by the Inspectorate this week also showed 42 companies had their RSE applications declined by Immigration New Zealand between 2006 and 2017. 

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Labour Inspectorate regional manager Kevin Finnegan said this was due to non-compliance with RSE policies, including breaches of employment law in some cases. A further 50 companies had their Agreement to Recruit applications declined over the same period.

It was not apparent if this included companies that had their RSE status rescinded, or others that failed to get accreditation after they re-applied, or new companies that were simply declined.

Questions to Immigration NZ, which oversees the RSE scheme, to clarify the situation were not answered on Tuesday.

When they first applied, companies that met the criteria to gain accreditation were given RSE status for a period of two years.

Follow-up applications could last for three years. However, each season an RSE-accredited employer wanted to recruit migrant workers they had to apply for a fresh Agreement to Recruit.

 - The Marlborough Express

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