NATION

Workers Claim They Were Duped

Immigration New Zealand is investigating a potential case of exploitation in which Fijians lured to work in Bay kiwifruit orchards were alleged to have received vastly inferior pay and living
14 Sep 2014 10:16
Workers Claim They Were Duped
Onisimo Sina at the Magistrates Court in Lautoka on April 9, 2020. Photo: Nicolette Chambers

Immigration New Zealand is investigating a potential case of exploitation in which Fijians lured to work in Bay kiwifruit orchards were alleged to have received vastly inferior pay and living conditions than what had been promised.

The case was uncovered by a Tauranga woman who became aware of their plight at a community gathering and ended up taking her concerns to New Zealand First’s Tauranga candidate Clayton Mitchell and area president Edwin Perry.

Several of the Fijians subsequently agreed to talk with Immigration New Zealand about what had happened to them in the five to six weeks they worked in the Western Bay.

The department’s lead communications adviser Marc Piercey confirmed to the Bay of Plenty Times it was investigating a potential case of exploitation involving Fijian workers.

“The New Zealand Police and the Labour Inspectorate are also involved but as the investigation is ongoing, Immigration New Zealand is unable to make any further comment at this stage.”

Mr Mitchell said the Fijians walked into his office two weeks ago to tell their story which began when they answered an advertisement in the Fiji Sun offering orchard work in New Zealand. They were promised they could earn $15 to $17 per hour but claim to have ended up with $190 in their hand after six weeks work.

He said they returned home much poorer and wiser for the experience. Each worker claims to have paid out Fiji$4250 ($2823) in fees and charges to get them to Tauranga, with the bulk of the money paid to one agent – including $2000 to arrange visas and $1080 for air fares.

Mr Mitchell said some took out loans against their cars and homes in order to come to what they thought would be a land of milk and honey and First World wages. Instead of the promised accommodation of one bedroom per person, eight Fijians say they ended up paying $80 each out of their wages each week to sleep on a garage floor.

No bedding was provided as promised and they ended up seeking help from the Salvation Army, he said.

Mr Mitchell said the visas never arrived. He said he believed they had been duped.

He said the vulnerability of the Fijians showed that New Zealand’s systems were less than watertight and open to abuse.

“It is going on right under our noses. It’s Third World conditions in a First World country.”

Mr Mitchell was unsure of how many people were lured to New Zealand by the scheme, saying he only knew about the eight Fijians who say they slept on the garage floor.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers president Neil Trebilco said he was aware that these employment practices went on but it was not widespread.

Growers were in an extremely difficult situation because their relationship was with the contractor and not the people working the orchard. Making sure growers received withholding tax certificates from contractors would improve some compliance but would not stop workers being underpaid or used illegally, he said.

“It is an issue we are trying to grapple with.”

Mr Trebilco said growers were in the early stages of a project with the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment to improve compliance.

Tauranga Regional Ethnic Council past president Ewa Fenn said the problem with workers caught up in this sort of situation was that they were often unsophisticated and fearful that someone would take away their passports.

The Bay of Plenty Times contacted the kiwifruit contractor identified by the Fijians as their employer but he denied being the person under investigation for the employment of Fijian workers.

Feedback: newsroom@fijisun.com.fj

 

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