Background

The Recognised Seasonal Employer policy requires the co-ordination of numerous stakeholders. These include New Zealand industry employers, industry bodies, and government agencies, Pacific workers, Pacific Island governments and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. The scheme has offered benefits to all parties involved and all are keen for it to continue (DOL, 2010). It appears to have portrayed better protection for working conditions than any previous seasonal migratory scheme in history (Wickramasekara, 2011). Some critics argue that the government has taken a redundant ‘facilitative’ approach to the policy. Others praise a relationship-based approach that isn’t plagued by undue regulations. There have been relatively few instances of abuses of the system, which include workers overstaying, or exploitation of employees. Despite this, it is recognised that employers are directly accountable for all worker support and thus effective regulations are important.

The Department of Labour (DOL) has the responsibility for the development and implementation of the RSE policy. It was introduced using the Transitioning to Recognised Seasonal Employer (TRSE) scheme which ran from August 2007 – August 2009. Since then the scheme has been scaled from 5000-8000 workers a year but little other policy changes have been required. Three initiatives to improve worker support have been implemented (DOL, 2010). In 2007, employers became entitled to pay 50% of workers return airfares. In 2009 employers were required to declare all workers reductions as part of their application to recruit. This was to increase transparency around the types and amounts of deductions from workers wages. Later that year employers were also asked to ensure workers subscribe to health insurance as they were not eligible for publicly funded health care in New Zealand.

In order to review the scheme I began by completing a literature search of the words ‘Recognised Seasonal Employer Policy’ within two databases (INNZ and IBBS). This returned 105 articles that were deemed useful. 27 outlined the history of the scheme and/or perceived successes and failures. These consisted of 12 academic journal articles and 15 magazine or newspaper articles. 13 items were from the ‘NZ Orchadist’, which provided unique ground-level insights into RSE employer’s perspectives of the scheme. Information on the policy was also obtained from NZ government websites including the Department of Labour, Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand Aid Programme (MFAT).