RSE (seasonal employer) - exploitation or beneficial employment opportunities?

October 20th, 2022 - Barbara Buckett

The Government has recently come under fire for gaps in the RSE scheme.

What is the RSE Scheme?

The scheme is a government initiative to support and give growers access to seasonal workers for harvesting produce.  However recently it has come under fire and scrutiny. 

The scheme is described as intending to help the horticulture and viticulture industries to plan for and meet their seasonal labour requirements at times when the labour demand exceeds the available New Zealand workforce.

However, good the intent is, the question recently raised is it fit for purpose and fair to all participants?

Certainly, the scheme has the backing of Horticulture NZ representing the employer’s perspective.

Worker advocates say it is a vehicle for worker exploitation, human rights abuse and promotes bad employment behaviours (e.g., underpayment, slave-like working and accommodation conditions); calling for some employers who flout the employment rules to be shut out of the scheme.

Already the Equal Opportunities Commissioner found that migrant workers were living in “cold, damp and overcrowded living conditions” “denied sick leave” and facing “excessive restrictions”.       

However, it is hard to see what changes would be needed as opposed to enforcement of existing terms and conditions of the scheme. In other words, if it is not breaking don’t adjust. 

Under the scheme, employers must meet certain quite rigid employment recruitment health and safety criteria and maintain those criteria to become and remain an RSE. 

This includes having quality human resources, sound dispute resolution processes, and good work practices (including a good history of compliance with relevant employment laws including the minimum wage requirements).  One black mark and you are out.

In addition, qualifying employers must also consent to give relevant government agencies, unions, and industry bodies access to financial and compliance information, such as employment and immigration. 

In terms of eligibility, an employer must also demonstrate a commitment to give the employment of New Zealanders a priority. 

Applications for eligibility can be declined if the granting would create an unacceptable risk to the integrity of the New Zealand immigration or employment laws or policies.

Effectively in signing up for the scheme the employer cedes employment relationship management and invites a significant regulatory inroad into private commercial and employment affairs. 

It is hard to see that the scheme as opposed to its enforcement needs reviewing. The problem appears more to lie with the regulatory body MBIE, not the scheme itself and if this is the case then the focus on the scheme for review is rather misdirected.

To be eligible it is important that employers get technical employment and HR advice, BuckettLaw can assist with this. There is no right of appeal if an application is declined so it is important to get it right from the get-go. To stay eligible compliance is critical

BuckettLaw offers specialized RSE advice. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

Post image from Horticulture New Zealand.

Note: BuckettLaw takes no responsibility for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of our articles. Any views expressed or comments made in an article are the writers option only. The content in our articles does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal or expert advice you should obtain specific advice about your case or matter from a professional. For legal advice based on your individual situation please contact us to speak with one of our expert lawyers.

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Barbara Buckett

Barbara Buckett is a highly experienced senior employment lawyer with over 35 years of practice in New Zealand. She provides expert advice on all areas of employment law and has a proven track record of delivering excellent results for clients. Barbara has extensive experience in resolving workplace issues and is an experienced litigator. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, working out, and fine wine and dining with friends.

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