Kiribati workers go home unpaid

Workers from Kiribati who came here on a Department of Labour scheme have gone home unpaid and unhappy and the department is investigating.

One News tonight reported that 70 workers from Kiribati were sent to Blenheim under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) but they were now being sent home. Ten had absconded.

The RSE scheme was launched in April 2007 and allowed up to 5000 seasonal workers to be employed each year to plant, maintain, harvest and pack crops here.

The goal was to solve a labour shortage in New Zealand and help the development of Pacific Island nations because workers send money home and gain work experience.

Pacific countries had lobbied for the scheme for years before the Government agreed to it despite fears about overstaying.

In June the Marlborough Express reported the department had warned Fore-Vintage Contracting, owned by Garry Maxwell-Smith, about the quality of accommodation his workers were staying in.

One News said 22 people were staying in a three bedroom house.

The workers being sent home have not been paid.

Mr Maxwell-Smith blamed the Kiribati government and the workers.

"They came here, I think, probably ill-prepared by the their own government and left it up to us to do all the basic training," he said.

"Kiribati people are their own failures, they weren't motivated. I couldn't get them to work."

He called them disrespectful, lazy and uneducated.

The department earlier reallocated his employees to other contractors and warned Mr Maxwell-Smith about mistreating workers.

A spokeswoman said it was investigating the company.

The department was also criticised for a lack of support for Pacific workers and that there was not enough work for some.

The department spokeswoman said if people were unhappy the scheme didn't work.

The department would also talk to the Kiribati government to ensure good workers were sent.

Other Blenheim contractors said it was a great scheme.

In July the Presbyterian Church raised concerns that workers from Vanuatu were being exploited and being offered poor living conditions and pay.

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