Potential policy changes

Below is a summary of the main findings from my analysis that may constitute potential worker support improvements in the RSE:

1. Regulations that cap employer deductions for food costs are present in CSAWP. Accommodation is not capped because employers provide it free. New Zealand could consider capping employer deductions for food and accommodation to minimise risk of worker exploitation.

2. Separate seasonal housing regulations in CSAWP can help to reduce the cost of accommodation.

3. The CSAWP provides an employment contract template. This may make it easier for employers to ensure solid contracts, saves time, and can be provided with translations into home languages.

4. CSAWP has utilised a separate government entity to manage the scheme. This may increase the cost of scheme management but also ensures employers who do not comply are less likely to fall through the cracks.

Some potential changes were also identified from my analysis of government failure but could not be addressed through comparative analysis of the CSAWP:

5. Both schemes could consider the implementation of a minimum work time period.

6. Issues with dispute resolution still need to be resolved. New Zealand will have to trial new solutions, which could include employing independent liaison officers who have similar ethnic background but are not recruited by home countries. 

7. A clearer outline of employer’s code of conduct could be beneficial to both policies. This could be a specific website outlining all employer’s need to know before applying to recruit within the scheme. Currently information is spread across various pages on Department of Labour and Immigration NZ. Clearer information would decrease the likelihood of employers placing undue restrictions on workers. The site could include a forum for discussion and a feedback page.

Considerations

The seven potential ideas for improvements listed above are initial ideas that require full implementation and cost benefit analysis before comprehensive policy recommendations can be made. New Zealand is a small country and the RSE scheme is relatively small. Implementing specific seasonal housing codes, and autonomous governing bodies is a lengthy process that needs to represent significant results to be cost effective. Adopting separate seasonal housing regulations does hold some premise. The scheme is well underway and we are aware of many employers who build, or plan on building, worker accommodation and would like to see changes (Chapman, 2008).

Capping employer deductions for food and accommodation is another important suggestion. The most commonly identified goal of RSE workers is to benefit financially from the scheme (DOL, 2010). It is vital that DOL maximises workers potential for financial gain and ensures accommodation and other costs are not excessive. The Canadian scheme has implemented caps where employers are entitled to make pay deductions (FARMS, n.d.). Adopting this idea in New Zealand still requires significant implementation analysis. A capped figure would be at the upper end of the spectrum to cover all potential accommodation situations. There is a risk that employers begin pricing accommodation with this fixed figure in mind, rather than on local market rates. It would be interesting to see if the average price of services has risen in the past when a capped figure has been placed.

Another new insight that resulted from comparative institutional analysis was the idea of a gold standard employment template readily available to employers. This helps to ensure solid employment contracts, saves time, and workers can easily understand available translations (HRSDC, n.d.).

There are important considerations to be made when suggesting new regulations. Until now, DOL has taken a largely facilitative role in implementing the RSE policy. They must ensure employers comply with the policy but don’t want to enforce too many undue regulations. As the scheme ages it would be desirable to further regulate and streamline some processes because an individual approach is time and resource intensive. Some also feel that it has let employers who do not comply with RSE requirements slip through unnoticed. Imposing tighter government control on any aspects of the RSE Policy may address some of these issues but can also create potential for further government failure.

The comparative institutional analysis did not provide solutions for all of the areas where we were seeking. It did not address minimum work time periods, more effective dispute resolution or a clearer employer code of conduct. Mintrom (2011) outlines that when comparisons are made, stark institutional differences can provide more opportunities for insightful, improved policy design. In many ways the Canadian and New Zealand seasonal work schemes are very similar. This helps to add weight to policy improvements that can be identified but will force us to find our own solutions for those that weren’t addressed. A future project with a larger scope could begin to look for potential linkages from more disparate policies. For example, policy surrounding refugee re-settlement would provide insights into support programmes that help outsiders assimilate to a New Zealand context.