04 June 2009

New Zealand work permit scheme for fruit pickers changed

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The New Zealand work permit scheme for fruit pickers will undergo improvements over so that overseas workers have greater flexibility.

Changes have been implemented by the Government for the benefit of New Zealand work permit holders using the Recognised Seasonal Employers' Scheme.  Labourers from specific Pacific Islands have been invited to participate in the Recognised Seasonal Employers' Scheme, so that harvesters can have access to more seasonal labour. 

The changes include giving New Zealand work permit holders greater flexibility to move between employers involved in the scheme, plus giving employers the onus to arrange health insurance for employees during their stay.  As it stands, workers using the scheme do not have access to New Zealand's free health care system.

According to Radio New Zealand, the Labour Party's spokesperson for Labour Darien Fenton said that the changes will cause pay rates to drop below the minimum wage for New Zealand work permit holders, which is currently sitting at $12.50 per hour, because employers will need to deduct costs for health insurance from workers' pay packets.

Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman said that a Supplementary Seasonal Employment Scheme will also be introduced to allow farmers to recruit more workers already in New Zealand on a visitor permit.  The supplementary scheme will run for six months.

The work permit scheme for farmers has had some promising results; during 2008 the scheme recruited 7,000 Pacific Islanders for 138 employers and this season an encouraging four-fifths has returned to work the farms.

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