Wait, what’s the RSE?

Written By: - Date published: 3:46 pm, October 22nd, 2008 - 38 comments
Categories: economy, election 2008, national, racism, workers' rights - Tags:

OK, we’ve reported on, given historical context to, and mocked Lockwood Smith’s racist comments about seasonal migrant workers. Now, to the substance of what Smith as saying, ie that fewer permits issued under the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme (RSE) should be allocated to people from the Pacific Islands (because, he says, other people are smaller and more hygienic). That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what the RSE is for.

As it happens, I was working in the Diplomatic Corp when the RSE was being developed and am more familiar with multilateral temporary migration agreement negotiations than I care to be.  It was pushed by the Pacific Island countries who wanted more remittances and to up-skill their work-force, and by the agriculture industries here and in Aussie, who want more labour but are too cheap to pay decent wages. 

Basically, what happens under the RSE is Australia and NZ take a bunch of seasonal workers, primarily from the Pacific, for agricultural work (with protections that are meant to make sure domestic labour isn’t displaced by the migrant workers). Eleven Pacific Island nations from the Pacific Islands Forum organise pools of workers to come over under the RSE. Workers from other countries only get permits when there are not suitable workers available from the Islands.

 It is essentially an aid programme for the Pacific (‘our’ payoff being cheap labour) and that’s why most of the workers are from the Islands. Change that, as Smith is proposing, and you take away the point of the scheme. It then becomes just a way for agriculture to undercut local workers.

38 comments on “Wait, what’s the RSE?”

  1. vidiot 1

    Ahh this would be the aRSE scheme that came under fire earlier this year when it was found that some of the employers were abusing the RSE program.

    “The Department of Labour says the case of 22 Kiribati workers living in one house while working in Marlborough vineyards was the worst overcrowding it has come across. The workers were among 70 Pacific Islands workers who arrived in New Zealand under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme in May to work on vineyards, but they were sent home early when the work finished – leaving them out of pocket.”

    Source: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10529512

    iirc the net take home pay for the workers once they left NZ worked out to be around 50 cents an hour – nothing to be proud of in that scheme.

  2. yeah, it has been abused in some cases.. that’s always the concern when yo’re dealing with employers who are too cheap to pay market rates in the first place

  3. Ben R 3

    “It is essentially an aid programme for the Pacific (‘our’ payoff being cheap labour) and that’s why most of the workers are from the Islands. Change that, as Smith is proposing, and you take away the point of the scheme. It then becomes just a way for agriculture to undercut local workers.”

    Well, the benefit would presumably then be shared with Asian workers who did the jobs prior to the scheme being introduced?

  4. National devising new ways to push down the wages and conditions of the already low-paid is nothing new.

    All spin aside, this example is as good a definition of what that party is REALLY all about as one could hope to find.

  5. randal 5

    why dont they just share the jobs out to people with the smallest hands. thye have the smallest bodies. they eat less and therefore need less money. q.e.d.

  6. Prior to the scheme being introduced, I thought that a lot of the labour in the orchards came from itinerant backpackers working for cash under the table.

    When I worked in Tasman picking apples, backpackers looking for a cash top-up appeared to be a big part of the work force.

  7. Ben R 7

    “When I worked in Tasman picking apples, backpackers looking for a cash top-up appeared to be a big part of the work force.”

    That’s true.

    “National devising new ways to push down the wages and conditions of the already low-paid is nothing new.”

    But the existing scheme already does that? It already undercuts local workers? Also, there are already statutory protections for wages and working conditions (however, as the first post above notes this isn’t necessarily being complied with). Will opening it up to Asian workers change this?

  8. Janet 8

    Are those same employers squashing the workers into unsuitable housing etc the same ones making the racist comments to Lockwood ie the local National Party members and supporters? Perhaps we could boycott their wines?

  9. Felix 9

    randal I reckon midgets might be a good way to go. Might have to get them something to stand on so they can reach the fruit though.

  10. Ben R 10

    “Are those same employers squashing the workers into unsuitable housing etc the same ones making the racist comments to Lockwood ie the local National Party members and supporters? Perhaps we could boycott their wines?”

    Janet, if they find the Asian workers are more productive what are they meant to do? Just avoid the topic?

  11. Daffodil Gal 11

    Ben R:

    “Janet, if they find the Asian workers are more productive what are they meant to do? Just avoid the topic?”

    Actually Ben, yes.

    You see there’s this piece of legislation, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it, called the Human Rights Act 1993. Among other things, it prohibits discrimination of the basis of “ethnic or national origins, which includes nationality or citizenship”. By favouring “asian” workers, you’re both discriminating unlawfully, AND directly compromising the original intent of Recognised Seasonal Employer policy.

    Policy WH1.1.1 of Immigration New Zealand’s Operations Manual states:

    The objectives of the RSE Policy are to … …

    encourage economic development, regional integration and good governance within the Pacific, by allowing preferential access under RSE Policy to workers who are citizens of eligible Pacific countries;

    So yeah, they avoid the topic. By law.

  12. Sarah 12

    This whole thing with Lockwood Smith is such a beatup. The guy is obviously a git, but what he says is not wrong.

    Asians do on average have smaller hands than polynesians. That is definitely going to help with grape-picking and other tasks of the same sort. I was just watching TV3 and an owner of a vineyard said as much. I don’t know how anyone could honestly be offended by his comments.

    And the comments about the Polynesians are completely true. The sort of people who they bring in from Tonga and Fiji to complete this sort of work are primarily from the rural areas of the pacific islands, and as a result they are not up to date at all with western customs. They live in huts, and are completely isolated from the western world. The employer as a result has to teach them basic western customs, such as how to use a toilet, and how to use a dishwaher.

    Yes his comments were very blunt, and a little stupid in that regard, but they were true nonetheless. But I personally love how this site has supplied multiple postings on this one particular issue, but when the same issues arise for labour, there are barely any posts at all. I only have to think back to the days where we would get one posting a day on the Winston Peters saga when it was at its height, when there were direct calls for his resignation. Instead, we get four posts in one day over such a minor issue as this. Talk about being in Labour’s pocket.

  13. Hey “Sarah” – when you pretend to be a girl do you like, y’know pretend to be a hot girl?

  14. Ben R 14

    “Janet, if they find the Asian workers are more productive what are they meant to do? Just avoid the topic?’

    Nonsense. They are not silenced from expressing an interest in expanding the RSE to include Asian countries (although you appear to favour a kind of Soviet style thought control).

  15. sweetd 15

    “Hey “Sarah’ – when you pretend to be a girl do you like, y’know pretend to be a hot girl?”

    Hey Sod, does that get you hard at night?

    So on topic eh.

  16. Steve Pierson: “It then becomes just a way for agriculture to undercut local workers.”

    Lockwood Smith: “Er, well yes. That’s the idea. What’s your point?”

    Hey, Sarah – was there some post somewhere in the blogosphere that your comment was actually in response to? It doesn’t seem to be answer this one at all.

  17. Daffodil Gal 17

    Ben. People from “asian” countries can already get work permits under TRSE and be recruited for RSE work. The scheme simply favours certain Pacific countries, and RSE employers wanting an Agreement to Recruit (ATR) have to either go to a pacific country to recruit workers, or provide a good reason why they are recruiting from somewhere else. And personally, I don’t think a good reason is “they got little hands”.

    Should the border officers measure the hands of prospective horticulture/viticulture workers? Should Immigration decline applicants with big hands? Perhaps there should be a “western lifestyle competency test” to ensure that employers don’t have to show someone how to flush the dunny? Should New Zealand citizens and residents who are willing to do the work be denied employment because their hands are relatively larger?

    I’d love to see the statistics regarding the relationship between hand size and labour productivity in the horticulture and viticulture industries… Anyone?

    ‘Sod: LMAOROFL

  18. Sarah 18

    “mocked Lockwood Smith’s racist comments about seasonal migrant workers”

    I thought it was in response to that particular comment Psycho Milt.

  19. sweetd 19

    “I’d love to see the statistics regarding the relationship between hand size and labour productivity in the horticulture and viticulture industries Anyone?”

    Further more, asian against pacific islands? Or is that non PC?

  20. Or they could get more workers the traditional way, pay higher wages.

    Its stupid really, they haven’t got a shortage of workers, its that at the wages offered and the labour they can get for those wages, the equilibrium is to not pick all the fruit. Pretty simple, if they want more workers, then they should pay them more, how ever with the price they get for the fruit they are better off not picking all the fruit.

    The problem occurs when a loud group of farmers gets the ear of the media, who can’t resist a “fruit rotting on the trees” story.

  21. randal 21

    Sarah how do you know that people with smaller hands are better grape pickers?

  22. Sarah 22

    I don’t know from personal experience, but there have been accounts in the media (TV3) where wine-growers have supported this theory. And if you have smaller hands then presumably you’ll be more nimble with smaller items.

  23. Ben R 23

    “Should the border officers measure the hands of prospective horticulture/viticulture workers? Should Immigration decline applicants with big hands? Perhaps there should be a “western lifestyle competency test’ to ensure that employers don’t have to show someone how to flush the dunny? Should New Zealand citizens and residents who are willing to do the work be denied employment because their hands are relatively larger?

    I’d love to see the statistics regarding the relationship between hand size and labour productivity in the horticulture and viticulture industries Anyone?”

    Well, I have very large hands and was terrible at pruning & thinning kiwifruit (although that was partly due to sheer laziness). You’re kicking a strawman though. I think one of the points is that previously (based on North & South article from earlier this year) there were Asian workers filling a number of these roles. They came over regularly, so shouldn’t be overlooked particularly as they apparently did an excellent job.

    Another issue is whether the government, seeing it is restricting the source of employees to assist certain countries, should provide more assistance with helping the new recruits adjust to what maybe quite a different culture to what they’re used to.

  24. Ben R 24

    “Sarah
    October 22, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    I don’t know from personal experience, but there have been accounts in the media (TV3) where wine-growers have supported this theory. And if you have smaller hands then presumably you’ll be more nimble with smaller items.”

    I posted this partly tongue in cheek, but in a sporting sense there is actually a view that Asians do have better dexterity:

    “The excavation of an abundance of precise tools in Asia, including needles for sewing clothes to survive cold winters, has led scientists to speculate that Asians were “programmed’ over time to be more dexterous. Studies indicate that East Asians do have the quickest reaction time, which some have speculated may play a role in Asian domination of Ping-Pong.’

    http://www.jonentine.com/reviews/straw_man_of_race.htm

  25. Lampie 25

    Thought it was the National party of New Zealand not the National KKK party of New Zealand

  26. Ben R 26

    “Thought it was the National party of New Zealand not the National KKK party of New Zealand”

    Why would the KKK care whether Asian’s work in Orchards?

  27. Lampie 27

    Why would the KKK care whether Asian’s work in Orchards?

    Give the Nats a chance to get to that next week, Lockwood is bound to think something up

  28. randal 28

    sarah read your adam smith where he compares the large man doing the sewing while a little man does the lugging. every case is different and as most wine growers are tories they will say anything to support lockwood ‘the dork’ smith. so your assertion is just hearsay.

  29. Lampie 29

    if nats get, hope lock’dead’wood is no where near foreign ministry, we be screwed if we did

  30. Felix 30

    Sarah has tiny little dainty nimble hands.

  31. Johnty Rhodes 31

    [troll warning]

    Talking about racism, what about the Maori seats? Enshrined into law even.

    LS is a dick but what he said was what growers told him. Amazing how the truth is considered racist.

    And you know what, Asians have smaller hands on average and some Melanesians would not know a shithouse even if they slept on the crapper!!!!

    [lprent: Ah my mindless troll I’m having fun with at present. Lets try a bit of common sense (well sarcastic – it may penetrate the bone around the brain).

    Actually I suspect what the growers were really asking for was a government handout. There is probably nothing stopping them getting temporary workers from anywhere – provided that they did the work (and cost) of organizing them. The RSE is easier because it largely gets organized by the various (what would you call it) gummint’s. This is provided as part of our aid programmes, and not as a service to some lazy employers who don’t want to spend the effort on their workers.

    So like you they drew out all of the ignorantly stupid stereotyping of the past to try and justify a gummint handout. Of course Lockjaw was (like you) a bit too simple to understand this.

    BTW: Have you read the Policy yet?]

  32. I’m sorry Sarah, but what if the boot was on the other foot, i.e. that young ex-pat Kiwis weren’t employed in bars and pubs in the UK because of their excessive tendency to get over liquored and violent?, and that Asian and Central Europeans were preferred due to their more constructive relationship with alcohol?

    You are missing the boat. By discriminating on race or nationality, noone has to prove that someone is less desirable except by looking at their skin/passport. Racism is racism. Locksmith either personally holds racist views, or endorses the opinions of those who do. In a similar manner, by not punishing him more severely, National is allowing this statement to be a legitimate part of its discourse.

  33. Ben R 33

    “Locksmith either personally holds racist views, or endorses the opinions of those who do.”

    The scheme itself discriminates on the basis of nationality against the Asian workers who previously were involved in this work. They obviously earned a good reputation so it’s not surprising employers would like be able to hire them again.

  34. Johnty Rhodes 34

    Ah yes Iprent, yet another sector wanting a govt handout, we are so conditioned to that now, arn’t we. With still a load of un-employed (and it will grow) maybe we should send those lazy pricks to do the jobs we import labour for. Or is it the average unemployed person in NZ is thicker than the average Malanesian, so they will need to be taught to pick the fruit as well as be taught to have a proper shit.

    Question – where is the new govt going to get the dosh for the handout when the money dries up?

    Ironic Catcha below, corrupt sher, there is no r in she

  35. vidiot 35

    “…and some Melanesians would not know a shithouse even if they slept on the crapper!!!!”

    I remember an excerpt from Eric Rushes Biography (Gold Rush) about Amasio Valance and not knowing what a toilet was. Same book, also had stories of Glen Osborne having a bubble bath with ‘Sunlight’ dish-washing detergent. Was it made up of was it the truth ? Is it racist or is this just the state of our people ? Uneducated, Illiterate, etc etc etc.

  36. Lampie 36

    Pansy Wong must do friut picking as a fund raiser

  37. Ben R 37

    “Pansy Wong must do friut picking as a fund raiser”

    You’re attacking a strawman. No one said that Asians proper role is picking fruit. The point is that workers who previously did the job seem to be shut out under the current scheme.

  38. Lampie 38

    Not me on TV eating humble pie Ben

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