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.
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.
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.