Women take up cudgels for migrant workers

Some dairy farmers are being taken to task over the conditions of employment and housing being offered to migrant workers.

Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) national councillor

Jocelyn McIlraith
Jocelyn McIlraith
, from Kurow, said in two cases in her area, migrant workers arrived at jobs to find houses inadequately furnished or in need of refurbishment, with little or no heating and without basic cooking equipment.

"In some cases, volunteers have come to the rescue of these people. Voluntary groups have supplied bedding and essential kitchen items," she said.

Information supplied to RWNZ by Immigration New Zealand reveals work permits were issued between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009 for 1605 migrants to work on dairy farms, 39 on sheep and beef farms and 34 on other farms, forests and gardens.

This was an increase on the previous year, when 1179 were issued for dairy, 13 for sheep and beef and 17 for other farm, forestry and garden work.

Mrs McIlraith said that in addition to being provided with inadequate housing by some employers, migrant workers were often left with little or no support in adjusting to the New Zealand climate and lifestyle, and to the technology they were expected to use in the shed and on the farm, such as all-terrain vehicles.

Many spoke little or no English.

"We had a migrant mention they didn't know what to do with a log fire. All these things are daily basics of life which we take for granted but are all new to migrants."

Brigid Ryan, who manages the Settling In project run by the Ministry of Social Development, said that while some farmers were excellent employers and worked hard to acclimatise migrant workers, some were less so.

It was difficult to measure exactly how many migrant workers were being mistreated. but a project under way in Eastern Southland, Dunedin and Waitaki hoped to determine the issues facing them, their concerns and the way they were treated.

While not wanting to pre-empt the project's findings, Mrs Ryan said she had heard of instances from around the country where migrant workers were not paid their entitled pay rate, were working exceptionally long hours, and did not have access to medical treatment for injuries or support for their families.

Mrs Ryan's group is convening a series of focus group meetings of migrants from which a report will be prepared next year so local support agencies can then step in and assist.

Equally, some small rural communities have struggled to adapt to an influx of foreign workers, which she hoped the focus groups would also help to address by including them and employers in the meetings.

Mrs Ryan said there was talk of 1000 Filipinos moving to Southland to work on dairy farms, an example of the high regard in which those workers were held.

"But, unfortunately, there are examples of things that are not so good," she said.

That could stem from ignorance, she said.

Filipinos were generally very religious and traditionally had time off to worship.

They also came from a tropical country and the temperature change, especially if they arrived in late winter, could be quite dramatic.

Mrs McIlraith said families could struggle with the isolation, and needed to know how to get their driver's licence to access health services and schools, and to help them integrate.

"These migrants all miss aspects of home, so surely it is important to make this essential workforce feel at home," she said.

If there was a major problem, Mrs McIlraith said Immigration New Zealand would help a migrant worker shift to another farm.

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