Struggling CSR contractors turn to food banks to feed the workforce

Some Marlborough wine entrepreneurs are using the region’s food bank to feed their migrant workforce, says a Pacific Communities Support Group.

Marlborough Pacific Trust’s chief executive, Amararo Katu, said some contracting companies, including those supplying vineyards in the area with CSR workers, and some people, had contacted her asking for help with food.

Katu said the demands started at the height of the Covid pandemic but continued, possibly due to a particularly wet winter, which meant vineyard workers were not always able to do a full working week.

Katu said she was meeting with the New Zealand Ethical Employers Group in the coming weeks to discuss the situation.

READ MORE:
* Foreign worker regime in ‘limbo’ as border restrictions bite
* New Zealand’s orchards and vineyards grow on the backs of migrants
* The CSR conference will be held in Blenheim to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the migration program

“When things like that happen, it’s the [NZ] Ethical employers who work directly with contractors to understand why such things happen,” Katu said.

The Marlborough Pacific Trust had a duty to look after the Pacific community and would arrange food bank help if needed, she said.

The Marlborough Food Bank was established to help community members access food and hygiene products when they needed them.

The government’s Recognized Seasonal Employer scheme allowed companies in the horticulture and viticulture sectors to hire overseas workers when there were not enough New Zealanders to fill positions.

Covid and a wet winter meant some CSR workers struggled to make ends meet while in Marlborough.

123rf/Stuff

Covid and a wet winter meant some CSR workers struggled to make ends meet while in Marlborough.

The scheme came into the spotlight earlier this year when the poor living conditions of CSR workers in Blenheim came to light.

Katu said contractors were “generally very good”.

“It’s only when we’ve had the Covid and bad weather come in, outside that they don’t normally need assistance.

“When we had flooding, because they were working outside in the vines, and some vines were more impacted than others, … they couldn’t work.

“There are only things where entrepreneurs have not been able to support their workers. Most of them are fine, but the smaller outfits can say “look, are you able to cover a few of these things?”

The wettest July on record and August showers rendered some vineyards unworkable for long periods.

MDC/provided

The wettest July on record and August showers rendered some vineyards unworkable for long periods.

With Blenheim coming off its wettest July on record, quickly followed by devastating August showers, Amalgamated Workers Union NZ regional organizer Michelle Johnston believed weeks of reduced hours, or no work for days, could have contributed to the problem.

Changes to the CSR policy in 2021 required employers to guarantee each worker a minimum wage of 30 hours, even if the work could not be carried out due to bad weather, and to pay a minimum living wage of 22.10 $ per hour – 90 cents above the National Minimum Wage of $21.20 per hour.

But whether they worked or got paid 30 hours or not, they still had to pay their rent and other deductions, including travel expenses. They often reimbursed their employers for bringing them to New Zealand in the first place.

Some CSR workers have to buy their own winter work clothes, some of which fall under PPE, most of which should be provided free of charge.

human rights commission/stuff

Some CSR workers have to buy their own winter work clothes, some of which fall under PPE, most of which should be provided free of charge.

“When they come (to work) it’s on a loan because they don’t have money to come here, so as soon as they set foot in the country, they are in debt, and they have to repay their loans. , reimburse their plane tickets, etc., it’s not really a good system.

“What also often happens is that even when they don’t go to work, they still get the fuel money deducted from their salary every week when they use the van. There’s certainly nothing that’s not being deducted, so they don’t have much left, so if they have to go to food banks, that’s quite concerning,” she said.

“People forget why these guys are here. The whole reason is to send money to family and their villages in the Pacific, so it’s very difficult for them to do that if they can’t afford food themselves here,” said she declared.

Some CSR workers come from as far away as Tuvalu, which means the airfare they have to reimburse can be exorbitant.

UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND

Some CSR workers come from as far away as Tuvalu, which means the airfare they have to reimburse can be exorbitant.

New Zealand Ethical Employers chief executive Tanya Powhare said government, unions and industry leaders were reviewing how deductions for airfares, loans and work-related costs were handled, and said changes would be made to ease the financial pressure on CSR workers if needed. .

“Those are the things that are being researched and actually being looked at right now.

“In addition to this, the Tripartite is meeting to look at what changes and short-term improvements we can make to benefit CSR workers. We are looking at a number of areas, and accommodation standards and deductions are one of them,” she said.

The Tripartite Forum on the Future of Work was a partnership between the government, Business New Zealand and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.

Powhare said every CSR worker’s situation was different and any deductions had to be pre-approved by the Labor Inspectorate before being passed on.

Michael A. Bynum