GUEST BLOG: Pat O’Dea – The Migrant Workers and the Marrow Millionaire

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The international covid crisis has lifted the scab on a dirty business

I hate food waste and this is a real scandal, it should never have been allowed to get to this position.

Fields of courgettes go to waste because grower can’t get workers
7 Nov, 2020 06:23 PM

The above headline and linked article appeared on the NZ Herald Business Page for November 7.

Beyond the headline, let’s unpack the linked article.

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Just has he has done in years past, an employer freely chooses to invest in exploiting migrant labour, knowing full well the risk in getting labour from overseas during a pandemic.

This year, Heap planted 60,000 plants where he might usually plant 100,000. The level of planting was partly due to a lack of staff and partly caution He cobbled together a workforce through locals and Thai agricultural workers resident in New Zealand.

The business association, Horticulture NZ, use the story of this man’s greed to pressure the government to open the borders, knowing full well the risk their demands represent to public health and the spread of the disease.

Hort NZ chief executive Mike Chapman said it was incredible to be facing a harvest season with unresolved issues that were known about six months ago.

Chapman wrote in May of the need for RSE workers. To now be in November with no plan to solve workforce problems was staggering.

“We haven’t slowed down our campaign to say we need to have the borders opened.”

The importation of Covid-19 with Russian fishing crews recently was “definitely unhelpful” but didn’t undermine the case for industry-led managed isolation and quarantine, he said.

The horticulture industry in New Zealand is one of the largest employers in the country, employing over 60,000 people and worth over $8.8billion NZ Dollars annually.

You can guarantee that little of this $8.8 billion NZ Dollars goes to the migrant RSE workers who actually create it.

Employer Brett Heap describes the working conditions behind this $8.8 billion industry. Heap could easily be describing the working conditions in the antebellum Southern states of America.

…the RSE staff worked the two-to-three month picking season with seven-day working weeks and working days that begin at dawn and finish on dark.

Bret Heap moans about his rights to maximise profits through exploiting RSE workers.

….Heap’s business, it was geared to Thai workers with specialist knowledge that reduced waste and maximised profitability.

While I personally abhor the waste he and his industry have created, I have no sympathy for Brett Heap’s plight.

Brett Heap said that if he had to employ New Zealand residents he would have to hire two workers for every migrant worker.

Brett Heap also said that the migrant workers he imports have to work from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. At this time of the year the sun rises at 6am and sets at 8pm. That is 14 hours a day in fields, adding prep time and clean up and travel that is twice the 8 hour day that Samuel Parnell fought 180 years ago.

In 1840 a British immigrant carpenter, Samuel Parnell, on arriving in this country fought for the right to work no more than 8 hours a day.
If Samuel Marsden had been a vulnerable RSE worker, bound to one employer, he would have been sent back home on the next ship, and never hired again to work in this country.

This is what Brett Heap means by specialist workers.
Workers cowed by his demands to accept his onerous conditions on fear of not being allowed back to work in this country ever again.

Postscript:
Since I first penned this, it has been reported that Horticulture NZ held a Zoom conference where they strategised how to force the government to bow to their demands to open the borders to RSE workers under the same restrictive and abusive RSE bonded contracts that Brett Heap and his like have profited from for years.

Following on the heels of the Horticulture NZ Zoom conference, it seems that Hort. NZ have taken on Brett Heap as their poster child in their campaign to lower the borders to migrant workers on short term work visas bonded to one employer.

None other than the MP for Epsom, ACT Leader and champion of the wealthy, David Seymour has been brought to weigh in on Brett Heap’s behalf.

Act’s David Seymour meets angry Northland courgette grower about worker shortage
9 Nov, 2020 04:20 PM

in this article Brett Heap backed up by Seymour doubles down on his claim that he can’t get workers. saying its not about pay. (he pays minimum wage).

Questioned by Mike Hosking Prime Minister, no less, outs Heap as a liar.

….She said there were 6000 foreign workers still in New Zealand from last season. “We want to make sure we are redeploying them across the country.” She said work was under way to do that.

There were also 14,000 people on a working holiday who had their visas extended, she said.

They obviously don’t want to work for Brett Heap, who refuses to give up on his minimum wage sweated labour practices.

For good measure Brett Heap attacks New Zealand workers;

….those harvesting the plant are operating at ground level. It’s leg-aching, back-breaking work to which, Heap says, New Zealand workers are unsuited.

To those who say “pay more”, Heap says: “Pay has nothing to do with it. This is a bogey they have been pulling out for years and years.

“It comes down to stamina. [Local workers] just don’t have it. And you’ve got to pay attention to detail and have pride in your work. This is what RSE workers bring. They are committed.

Apart from New Zealand workers who ‘just don’t have it’, the thousands of migrant workers stuck here that the Prime Minister mentioned just ‘don’t have it’ either.

The bonded workers Brett Heap gets under the RSE scheme that are tied to him and not allowed to work for any other employer as part of their visa conditions.

I bet if their visas didn’t have this prohibition for changing employers, these workers wouldn’t stay with Brett Heap 5 seconds.

Brett Heap, Hort. NZ, David Seymour don’t care about migrant workers rights, or any other workers rights.

 

Pat is an activist, Unionist and writer.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Add to your article, that this is 6 weeks work!
    Ask Heap, Seymour et al, to work 6 weeks then go through the trauma of having to go searching for your next job. There is no sustainability in long term employment in the role of courgette picking unless Heap has other vegetable/ fruit products to reap all year round.

    • Has the government done anythink to change the draconian way it runs he benefit system to help people to go on and off the benefit to help,with seasonal work.
      The crop needs to be planted then harvested then sorted for market the the area needs cleaning up and made ready for the next season. There are gaps between each phase and people should be able to easily draw the benefit when these occur. Over a period I image their skills would improve and they would be employable all year round.

      • Party spokesperson for social development Carmel Sepuloni said reinstating the Training Incentive Allowance (TIA), which was cut in 2009 for Level 4 qualifications and above, would assist with the costs of getting a degree-level tertiary qualification.

        Definition of DRACONIAN…

        “Access to support for higher level courses under the TIA was taken away by National, despite the responsible Minister Paula Bennett herself having benefited from this support,” Sepuloni said.

        Hardly surprising the latest election results Trevor!

      • Yep, no stand down period and a ‘bonus’ for travel, free accomodation (paid by the employee not public) might help.

        Also allowing local workers to camp on site in summer, might help.

    • +1 Bert

      Industry could employ ‘permanent workers’ and cycle them around farms and have conditions to retain them, but don’t. Failure by industry.

      Same with construction, trucking, fishing, farming, aged care and increasingly the public service getting support workers and social workers, teachers, nurses etc…

      Increasingly NZ’s entire workforce will be migrants on temp permits… so what happens to those locals not in work….

      • saveNZ really good ideas. I doubt industry nor Heap would dip into their pockets however. Heap already states he needs government help. Remind me who are the beneficiaries again?

  2. Big mouth Seemore should work one day in those conditions and those hours, it will break the little punks back. As for those people crying ‘open the borders’ they can go and take a running jump. The PM has already said we don’t have the capacity and why should our Nurses and Doctors work in quarantine when we need them ourselves. Our public health system is creaking at the seams and too many people are not receiving proper medical care and treatment. All staff working in MIQ should be paid danger money and shift allowances. As for many of our growers and food producers many NZers can’t even afford to buy their produce, they are far too expensive. And the fuss being made over those returning (the so called brain drainers) is sickening our media have been putting them up on a pedestal. These people choose to leave now they have come back cause the country they were living in is riddled with the virus and division is rife with their incompetent leaders wallowing.

    • Yes perhaps Heap walks the walk and injects himself with Covid-19. That way he may gain perspective. The reality, as pointed out to both he and idiot Seymour is that there are staff here in NZ to do the work. I think he ans Seymour need to try a little harder, personal responsibility and all that, rather than blaming others.

  3. Fuck No Zealanders… more colonist landlords and property owners at the expense of No Zealanders, more colonist slaves to drive down the incomes of the No Zealand underclass… a fucking toddler can see where this BS ends…

    • Excellent comment. Perhaps our returning Kiwi’s should be made to fill these roles, Ha ha ha. All those so called Brainy people working in a packing shed for a very low contract rate, zero hour contracts, no nothing, and far too little to live on. Will these people replace the exploited immigrants that we so badly need?

  4. The horticulture, viticulture and seafood industries have never been shy about letting us know how valuable they are in terms of earning export dollars, and what a wonderful opportunity they’re providing for their Pacific slaves.

    However, the minute anyone suggests upping wages and making conditions better to attract some Kiwi workers (or some of the many temporary workers still here), these buggers start screaming blue murder. They’ve had it great and made enormous profits on the backs of low-cost labour for years now; and they’d like it to stay that way thanks very much.

    • It’s not always true – many of these businesses are struggling due to their massive incompetence. The RSE’s and slave fishermen allow them to stay in business instead of being obliged to sell out to younger and more effective operators.

  5. Every year these guys scream the sky is falling, and every year their produce gets picked and exported overseas for billions. Its almost like the boy who cried wolf now.

  6. Poor Mr Heap! I don’t see David Seymour doing any picking…why not? As ACT leader he should know that marrows can be made into jam – didn’t his mother do this? Any pull -yourself -up -by- the- bootstraps kind of fellow would be pickling, fermenting and mulching his way past this kind of courgette crisis. I’m disappointed…maybe he was just there to advise on his euthanasia scheme should all else fail.

  7. If New Zealanders lack this specific worker gene (crouching in a paddock) then the solution is obvious: this guy should take his farm to the workers. Set up in some other country, use the local Labour, minimise travel pollution, and abide by someone else’s rules. Or would another country not allow this? Do other countries actually protect their sovereignty and workers rights while also optimising employment opportunities and food production? Conversely I don’t think someone working a rice paddy in central Asia or a car plant in Europe could care less about New Zealand worker rights, lobby their government to bring us over for minimum wage and benefits, or protect us with Covid wage subsidy.

  8. I think some of the blame for this situation also has to be directed at the consumer being unwilling or unable to pay prices for horticulture products that require higher prices to cover all the costs of production. This stems from the introduction of Neo-Liberal economic policies from 1984 by Labour and continued by all governments since, with the aim of suppressing wages to keep costs down, the assumption being that workers will benefit because the prices of household goods etc will go down vis a vis their wages.

  9. Isn’t the free market supposed to magically fix this?

    I bet slave rowers in Roman galleys had plenty of stamina of the kind not forthcoming from Roman citizens. In regards to forced motivation modern poverty is as effective as the ancient whip.

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