Workers not out of tune with the rules

Pacific Island seasonal workers are welcome to busk after all, as far as the Government is concerned.

West Coast Tasman MP Damien O'Connor yesterday raised concerns that workers from Vanuatu have been banned from entertaining at the Motueka Sunday market and raising money for community projects at home.

He pinned the blame on Immigration New Zealand making a narrow interpretation of the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, describing the Government's position as abhorrent.

But Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said today Mr O'Connor had got it wrong, and accused him of playing politics.

"I have absolutely no interest in stopping buskers from playing at the local market to raise money for their communities, and neither does Immigration NZ.

"It's not true to say the Government stopped these guys. INZ hasn't spoken to them and has no interest in doing so," Mr Woodhouse said.

He had been told it was the workers' employer, not INZ, who advised them that busking may breach the rules of their visas.

"While strictly speaking, busking for personal gain could be a technical breach of the rules that only allow migrants to ‘work' for their particular RSE employer, INZ has no interest in pursuing this matter.

"These rules were actually put in place by the previous Labour government, of which Damien was a minister.

"My letter to Mr O'Connor seeks to explain the current rules around the issue according to instructions, but didn't mention the fact INZ has not directly been involved in this matter.

"I then spoke with Damien about the background to this particular situation to allay his concerns on Thursday evening, so he knows what's going on and I think he's engaging in a bit of political gamesmanship.

"My view is that as INZ has discretion to use a bit of common sense, and they are in this case, so there is no need to amend the rules."

Nelson Mail attempts to get comment from the workers' employer have been unsuccessful.

However, in a letter from Mr Woodhouse to Mr O'Connor date-stamped March 19, the minister said the workers did appear to be "acting outside the purview" of the RSE limited visas - and he appeared to rule out the discretion he now says is available.

"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."

Nelson Multicultural Council co-ordinator Evey McAuliffe said workers playing in the market was a "really good exercise in promoting positive race relations".

"If people simply see RSE workers as orchard workers, and there is a misperception, sometimes people don't understand that we need these workers. There is a certain resentment based on false information.

"Then people see a more human side, that these people love to make music just like we do, and there is a opportunity for a bit of banter. It all helps to break down those barriers.

"It's a fantastic opportunity to break down barriers between Pacific Island workers and the host community."

The Nelson Mail