Insight for 12 October 2014 - Is Dairy Milking Migrants?

From Insight, 8:12 am on 12 October 2014

 The number of migrant workers complaining of illegal treatment in New Zealand workplaces has more than doubled in the past year.

Dairy shed on Clutha Valley farm.

The Labour Inspectorate is targeting sectors where complaints occur, including the dairy industry. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Last year, the total number of complaints to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Labour Inspectorate fell by 11 percent (from 2331 in 2012-13 to 2070 in 2013-14). But the number made by foreign workers in the same period more than doubled from 377 to 828.

The inspectorate's general manager, George Mason, said the rise is probably a combination of poorer treatment and of more reporting by workers now it has been made safer for them to do so.

For the past 12 months, the inspectorate has made the employment of migrants and in the dairy sector priority areas.

Abdi Korir, with wife Anne and daughter Latifa at their home in Balclutha.

Abdi Korir, with wife Anne and daughter Latifa at their home in Balclutha. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Mr Mason said the inspectorate has begun targeting the sectors where the complaints are clustered - in horticulture, viticulture and construction, and especially dairy.

"What's called salary averaging where workers are paid a salary and work whatever hours are required meant we were coming across case where workers were being short-changed in terms of their minimum wage requirements," he said.

[h] The migrant experience

Migrants on temporary visas comprise about 10 percent of the national dairy workforce and many South Island farms are now reliant on them for milk production.

They are mainly from the Philippines, but also South America and southern Africa.

A number of migrant workers spoken to by Radio New Zealand say their salaries are much better than they could receive at home, but they work periods of at least 12 hour days with short breaks for months on end.

Abdi Korir, a Kenyan living in Balclutha,  started in dairy seven years ago, but has left it for the meat industry because of a farm experience in which he says he was treated harshly. He says he was cheated of part of his salary by an employer who wanted his wife to work for free.

Mr Korir said the New Zealand dairy industry is world-leading in many ways, but more should be done for the workers.

"I can say the working conditions need to be adjusted, because there is a thing that the farmer is using when you are asked them about the hours you are working.

"He says you are employed here permanently.  Sometimes you work so many hours, but you are just getting your pay."

Rangiora farmer Glen Herud.

Glen Herud says laws protecting minimum wages need to be enforced. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

[h] Crackdown necessary, say farmers

Industry group Dairy NZ says it is working with the Labour Inspectorate to improve labour practices, but rejects the suggestion that worker exploitation is rife.

Rangiora dairy farmer Glen Herud says he has noticed this year all of a sudden the Labour Inspectorate is out doing random farm surveys.

"If people aren't doing it, then throw the book at it. I mean, I've heard a lot of dairy farmers on Twitter and the like say exactly the same thing. They're annoyed because they are doing a good job and they're being tarnished by people who aren't."

Mr Herud says the existing laws protecting minimum wages are already strong, but need to be enforced.

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