Migrant vineyard workers in Marlborough start to unionise

Last updated 12:34 27/06/2017

Central Amalgamated Workers Union organiser Steve McManus has been signing up Recognised Seasonal Employer workers in Marlborough.

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Migrant vineyard workers on a Government-sponsored labour scheme in Marlborough are signing up to a union for the first time in years, a union organiser says.

The Central Amalgamated Workers Union has signed up seven Recognised Seasonal Employer workers, and expects others to follow after a series of meetings over the past two months.

Organiser Steve McManus said the workers wanted an independent advocate to step in if there were any issues with pay, or the way they were being treated by vineyard supervisors.

Since July 2014, Labour Inspectorate general manager Kevin Finnegan said only three improvement notices had been issued to RSE employers in Marlborough.

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McManus claimed employment breaches had been an issue in the vineyards for years, but traditionally RSE workers had been reluctant to join a union due to fears it could affect their employment.

"There's still this fear - you can see it in their eyes. They think, 'if we join a union will we still be able to come back to New Zealand next year'," McManus said.

However, the union organiser said workers were becoming increasingly aware of their rights under New Zealand employment law, and their ability to join a union if they so decided.

RSE-accredited vineyard contractors had opened their doors to McManus to allow him to present to their workers about joining the union, as had at least one wine company in the region.

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said he was not aware of any instances of RSE workers being intimidated not to join a union, adding it was unacceptable if it had happened.

Pickens said seven union members was a very small proportion of the overall RSE workforce in Marlborough, and he was confident there was enough oversight in place to protect workers.

"I know the Labour Inspectorate is very active, there have been a number of messages back to the RSE group that they're not beyond rapprochement," he said.

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"They're pretty active in monitoring compliance, they don't just set the rules and walk away."

Pickens said information sent out by Wine Marlborough and New Zealand Winegrowers around compliance with employment law meant the industry was aware of its obligations.

New Zealand Winegrowers recently released new guidelines for its members about hiring vineyard contractors, and making sure those doing work on their properties were compliant with labour law.

Pickens said RSE workers and accredited contractors, who faced strict auditing processes to be able to recruit migrant labour, were vital to the success of the wine industry.

A report released last year by Wine Marlborough found RSE contractors serviced about 75 per cent of the vineyard estate in the region.

A joint investigation involving the Labour Inspectorate last year found all nine RSE contractors to be compliant.

- The Marlborough Express


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