Samoan seasonal workers in N.Z. earn more

By Matai'a Lanuola Tusani T - Ah Tong 07 January 2022, 7:21PM

Samoans employed under New Zealand's recognised seasonal worker scheme get higher weekly earnings of WST$2,850 than their Pacific island co-workers doing the same job.

A report titled “Seasonal worker schemes in the Pacific through the lens of international human rights and labour standards” by the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.) revealed the disparity of the working conditions for the temporary workers. 

The information was collected through individual face-to-face interviews with seasonal workers in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa and Vanuatu. 

The report noted the average weekly earnings of workers in Australia was WST$2,580 (AUD$988) compared to WST$2,260 (AUD$868) in New Zealand. 

“In Australia, workers from Fiji had the highest earnings (AUD$1,138 per week) and workers from Vanuatu the lowest (AUD$834),” the report said. 

“In New Zealand, Samoan workers had the highest earnings (AUD$1,093) and workers from Fiji the lowest (AUD$736). 

In New Zealand, regardless of the type of payment, workers must receive the minimum wage, according to the report. 

“In Australia, workers can be either full-time, part time or casual, and are paid according to the rates set in the “award” for their industry.”  

According to the data collected by the I.L.O. report, there were considerable variations in income between countries of origin and among individual cases upon close examination, which has also been identified in other studies. 

Some employers continue to pay their returning workers the minimum wage, despite the workers having increased skills and several years of experience, the report stated.

There were also concerns about employment conditions which relate to the complexity and lack of transparency around how piece rates are calculated; rates that change throughout the season; and employers that do not confirm what the rates will be. 

According to those who participated in the survey, they understood how their pay was calculated, except for three workers in New Zealand. 

All workers were aware that they paid tax in Australia and New Zealand, and most workers in Australia were aware that their employers paid superannuation contributions on top of their wages. 

“A major grievance of respondents was that the deductions from their wages were too high,” the I.L.O. report highlighted. 

“In addition to repaying their employers for travel expenses, most workers pay for accommodation, utilities and transport (between their place of accommodation and work) through wage deductions, in addition to tax and health insurance.” 

In New Zealand, deductions over the entire season were almost WST$5000 (AUD$2,000) lower than in Australia, mostly as a result of a higher share of international travel expenses paid by seasonal workers in Australia, the report noted. 

The lower deductions in New Zealand together with a longer average length of stay in New Zealand of 6.5 months, compared to 6 months in Australia, contribute to the higher total earnings after deductions in New Zealand.

The vast majority of participant in the survey were in the horticulture industry, where the physically harder tasks of pruning and picking were mostly done by male workers. 

The women seasonal workers were employed in pack houses where they weighed, sorted and packed fruits and vegetables. 

A small number of respondents worked in other industries, including three workers from Fiji and one from Vanuatu who worked at tourist resorts in Australia. 

Another worker from Vanuatu was employed on a chicken farm in Australia while a Samoan worked at a meat processing facility in New Zealand. 

According to the report the average number of workdays per week was 5.96 in Australia and 5.98 in New Zealand, and the average working hours per day were 8.4 in Australia and 8.9 in New Zealand.

Over half of the respondents were involved in overtime, weekend and public holiday work, most of which was not paid at a higher rate.

The report noted previous research as well as the media have documented cases of worker exploitation under both the Recognised Seasonal Employer (R.S.E.) and  Seasonal Workers Program (S.W.P.).

That includes underpayment and even non-payment of wages; unlawful deductions from wages; excessive working hours without proper compensation; lack of breaks; overcrowded and substandard accommodation and unreasonable above-market rate charges for accommodation and transport; racism and discrimination at work; verbal and physical abuse; employer non-compliance with pre-departure and on-arrival briefing requirements; and others. 

Several examples of such instances were recounted by the participants in the recent survey conducted by the I.L.O.

More than 1000 workers from Samoa were employed in the scheme in Australia last year. 

In New Zealand there were close to 700 Samoan seasonal workers who were still in New Zealand around November, according to statistics from the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment unpublished data. 

By Matai'a Lanuola Tusani T - Ah Tong 07 January 2022, 7:21PM

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