Busking orchard workers silenced

Last updated 13:00 21/03/2014

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Pacific Island workers in Nelson for the fruit harvest season have been banned from busking at markets.

West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor is outraged, and is calling on Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse to reverse the ban.

The workers are brought to New Zealand under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme by growers and packhouses.

Mr O'Connor said RSE workers from Vanuatu working at orchards in the Motueka area had entertained shoppers at the Motueka Sunday Market. He understood that other workers elsewhere in New Zealand performed at weekend markets.

Mr O'Connor said he had seen the workers singing at the Motueka market a few weeks ago and thought they were great. He understood they were raising money for a community project back home, such as a church roof.

He was alerted to the ban by a local resident through his Facebook page.

Mr O'Connor said a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment official had advised the workers' employer that busking was outside the conditions of their RSE contract.

He said the Government had changed the RSE scheme's policy to give employers more flexibility, and so they could recover the cost of the workers' airfares, and they should show some flexibility.

"This entertainment provides some recognition of the culture, allows them to raise a bit of money, to get out and enjoy themselves, and provides enjoyment for people at the market."

He said he did not blame the workers' employer, Birdhurst, which had to abide by instructions from the Government.

Mr O'Connor said he had expressed his anger to the chairman of the Nelson Seasonal Employers Association, Paul Heywood.

"I find this Government's decision abhorrent. There may be some employers who want their workers to be available seven days a week, but we cannot expect that these people come over here and be at the beck and call of every employer, and they need to have a life.

"Most reasonable employers would welcome the opportunity for their staff to get out and mix with the wider community.

"At a time when the horticultural industry has been asking for an increase in the number of RSE workers, this policy effectively confines the workers to their barracks."

Last year 900 RSE workers were employed in the Nelson region, and the national cap was 8000.

Mr O'Connor acknowledged that there was a wider issue around providing jobs for locals rather than overseas workers.

"That does not mean we have to treat RSE workers inhumanely. This is about basic human rights."

Mr Woodhouse, in his letter to Mr O'Connor this week, said the RSE Limited Visa allowed a person to be in New Zealand for the express purposes of seasonal employment in the horticultural and viticulture industries for a specified employer.

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In the Motueka case, the workers appeared to be acting outside that, he wrote.

"I appreciate the cultural value these workers bring to the region, as well as the support and interest the local community has shown in them.

"However, in order to maintain the integrity of the RSE policy and reputation of New Zealand as a destination country in the international labour market, INZ is required to ensure strict adherence to current immigration legislation," Mr Woodhouse wrote.

- The Nelson Mail

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