09 June 2009

Changes to New Zealand work permit RSE scheme under fire

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Changes to the New Zealand work permit scheme for fruit pickers are being contested by the Opposition, who say that they would lead to the exploitation of Pacific Islanders, reports Radio New Zealand.

The New Zealand work permit scheme for fruit pickers, or the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, allows farmers in New Zealand to hire foreign labour from specific Pacific Island nations to work during the harvesting season.

Under the scheme, Pacific Islanders are temporary residents on a specific type of  New Zealand work permit and do not have access to New Zealand's health insurance system.  In order to provide protection for the workers, this month the Government announced that employers would take contributions for health insurance from their wages, dropping their pay packets to below the minimum wage.

The Opposition (Labour Party) said that the changes would result in the exploitation of New Zealand work permit holders under the RSE scheme; however, New Zealand Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman refuted their claims, saying that the changes have the workers' best interests in mind.

"When they get into health difficulties they are presented with a situation where they can’t access health care and in those situations where they do get access the New Zealand tax payer ends up footing the bill," Dr Coleman told reporters.

"So we are saying we are going to make it incumbent on the employers to arrange health insurance which the RSE workers will have to pay for."


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