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Kiwifruit Workers Alliance Launched

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While the business community’s response to a worker shortage in the Bay of Plenty is well known, workers who’re dealing with these issues every day have not yet had their say.

In response to concerns workers have raised with us, FIRST Union is launching The Kiwifruit Workers Alliance. The Alliance will provide a voice and collective resource for employees. It will set up a self-governed network of both local and immigrant employees who’ve witnessed first-hand the injustices of the current employment models used within the industry.

FIRST Union’s Jared Abbott says a government investigation last year revealed more than half of the Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit audited employers failed to meet the bare minimum of basic employment standards. He says the declaration of a seasonal shortage, and the special allowance announced by the Ministry of Social Development is likely to increase known exploitation in the sector.“I don’t think these companies have suddenly grown a conscience and are working with workers in a fair manner, this announcement will only make matters worse for workers.”

Mr Abbott says if the parties involved were to consider underemployment, they would realise workers were available in the region, and want to work.“It is not an issue of people not wanting to work because we know they do. It’s an issue of accessibility to work, and an issue of employers providing safe and healthy work conditions that reassure people it’s a good and safe place to work.”

He says job security is a major issue for the industry, as labour hire arrangements (the use of triangular employment arrangements) make up a large part of employment. “The reason many businesses are below standard is due to triangular labour hire agreements that don’t protect workers’ rights, and don’t provide the job security required for employees to enforce their rights when they are exploited.”

He says prominent companies have found unique ways to get around employment law. “We have also seen well-known companies employ people on ‘seasonal’ contracts that last 50 weeks of the year and then re-employ them on a new seasonal contract two weeks later. This is exploitation designed to avoid claims of permanent employment and leave entitlements.”

“We would like to see more direct employment and a pathway for kiwifruit workers who have worked here for years paying taxes to get permanent residency. The insecure nature of triangular employment coupled with the insecure nature of temporary visas allows for exploitative business practises and drives down terms and conditions in the industry in general.”

The Alliance’s affiliation with FIRST Union enables members a three-tiered membership that includes a free option for low-paid workers, and lower prices for workers with fewer hours. The partial and full membership options include advocacy for employment and ACC matters, group discounts on products, legal support, subscription to Workers First magazine, and the right to attend FIRST Union stop work meetings.

A FreshPlaza release   ||  May 11, 2018   |||