The Maritime Union says that action must be taken to protect both local jobs and overseas workers in New Zealand industries after recent comments from Opposition immigration spokesperson Lockwood Smith about overseas workers caused an uproar.
Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson says a progressive downward pressure on wages, conditions and local jobs is spreading throughout large areas of the New Zealand economy, including the horticulture and viticulture sector.
“We are very aware of this problem in the fishing industry and with flag of convenience shipping, and also with attempts to displace waterfront labour.”
He says the use of cross-border, short-term labour sourced from ultra-low wage economies is a major threat to workers in New Zealand and around the world.
“This system is being used by employers and Governments around the world as part of free trade to generate profits regardless of the effect on workers and society.”
Mr Hanson says the recent comments by National Party immigration spokesperson Lockwood Smith about overseas workers in the horticulture and viticulture industry showed a disturbing attitude.
“There is no doubt that there is a divide and rule approach by employers which will be promoted by the National Party, who obviously see these overseas workers as production units who are not entitled to either dignity or good treatment.”
Mr Hanson says employment agreements for overseas workers need to be prepared and signed before they come to New Zealand.
“Any employer who requires imported labour should be required to allow inspection of accommodation and conditions, agree to a 30-hour minimum payment and offer pay above minimum rates to skilled workers, prior to approval to bring workers in.”
Unions should be directly involved from the start of any application to ensure that these workers are provided with rights and protections.
Mr Hanson says the same system should apply to the fishing industry.
“Over the last generation, a huge numbers of foreign workers having been employed in New Zealand waters with the promises of training being dismissed by some New Zealand fishing companies.”
“There needs to be regulations that provide young New Zealand workers with training and a pathway to a career in fishing.”
Mr Hanson says there is a definite need to examine the financial returns producers are receiving and measure this against workers terms and conditions of work in the industry.
He says the massive rise in food prices in the last year, especially with fresh produce, was not reflected in the wages and conditions of workers in the industry.
“It is a travesty that in a food producing country like New Zealand, workers cannot afford to buy fresh food.”
“We are of no doubt that the payment of a living wage would bring New Zealand workers into the industry, and still leave room for Pacific Island workers. The Government needs to take a firmer line on conditions and wages paid to these workers.”