Migrant accommodation concerns

The New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils is concerned changes to minimum accommodation standards for farm workers could affect many migrant workers in the industry across New Zealand.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is currently reviewing workplace Health and Safety under the Health and Safety Reform Bill introduced to Parliament this year that is expected to create the new Health and Safety at Work Act.

New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils executive director Tayo Agunlejika said the council was concerned a MBIE discussion document, which is currently seeking public submissions, proposed no specific regulations relating to agricultural accommodation and proposed deleting current regulations.

Mr Agunlejika said the proposed new Act required a person conducting a business to ensure that accommodation provided to a worker as part of their job did not expose the worker to a risk to their health and safety.

Under current regulations, employers must ensure accommodation provided to agricultural employees was made of permanent materials, maintained in good order and contained, or had access to, facilities for cooking, drinking, washing and toilets.

Mr Agunlejika said the New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils strongly urged specific provisions relating to accommodation for farm workers to be retained.

''There has been a significant increase in the number of migrant workers in agriculture in recent years, particularly in dairying, and the isolation of such workers and their lack of knowledge of basic minimum protections in New Zealand make it all the more necessary to ensure that requirements on employers are specific and clear.

''I know of some cases of isolation and some people are not aware of the health and safety regulations and if [employers] are not required by law concerning this, it could lead to exploitation of migrant workers.''

Mr Agunlejika said the Government needed to consider some of the cultural aspects of workers in the industry.

''It's really prudent for the Government, in developing this policy, to include the migrant community for consultation,'' he said.

Federated Farmers health and safety spokesperson Katie Milne said up to 8% of people working in the industry were migrant workers.

''We certainly hope the standards of accommodation offered in the industry surpassed the minimum standard needed, we need to encourage and retain people in these industries and it would be a concern if some offered substandard accommodation,'' she said.

Mr Agunlejika said the New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils sought to minimise isolation and encourage cultural links with migrant workers and their families by providing social events and sharing activities in support groups around the country.

- by Rachel Harris