Mr Apple claims Tongan employees face few problems, says most “working really well”

The Labour Manager of one of New Zealand’s largest fruit growing companies said last week Tongan seasonal workers employed by his company faced very few problems.

Mr Apple’s Labour Manager Alistair Jamieson told Kaniva News Tongans working under Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme visas at his Hawke’s Bay company earned good money and “most of them are working really well.”

The Tongan media has regularly reported on problems faced by seasonal workers.

In the past, mainstream media has also reported on problems, with  TVNZ current affairs show Close Up reporting on complaints by workers of poor accommodation.

When asked whether or not the social problems regularly raised on local Tongan media had been an issue with his Tongan workers, he said: “Not at all” and claimed that if there were any problems, they were very low level.

However, Jamieson, who was addressing a meeting in Auckland,  said he was aware of cases involving seasonal workers had been heard in court.

This had not affected the value of the work done by the other employees.

He said he had the power to send any workers home if they caused trouble.

Jamieson said the 350 Tongans employed by the company were hard working people and “physical men.”

He said the company’s Tongan workers were financially aware and knew how to calculate their pay and raise concerns if they were not satisfied.

He said the average wage was NZ$1200/TP$1766 a week, which came to NZ$800/TP$1177 after taxes.

Most of the money went to Tonga every week. He said he understood the workers’ families in the kingdom looked forward to receiving the money.

Jamieson was speaking to Tongan media in Auckland before flying to the kingdom to recruit more workers.

He said the regional workers visa scheme would remain open to Tongans and other Pacific islanders because New Zealand horticulture could not do without it. He said New Zealanders could not provide that many labourers needed by the horticultures.

According to the Mr Apple website, the company is the largest “vertically integrated apple grower, packer, shipper and exporter in New Zealand” and sells 97% of its apples on the international market.

“We control 25% of New Zealand’s total apple crop,” the website claims.

“One out of every four apples exported from NZ is exported by Mr Apple.”

Sefita Hao’uli, the RSE Tongan agent in Auckland, said they had 36 employers from Kerikeri to Christchurch who were working for growers producing lemons and oranges, strawberries, vegetables. Kiwifruit, apples, mixed fruit (pears, berries, and other pip fruit) and grapes (wine).

Most of their workers were employed in the apple sector doing the harvest and packhouse work, followed by kiwifruit and then the rest.

“Except for 2007 when we had only 600 workers, in the past eight years we have brought average of 1600 workers here each season,” Hao’uli said.

“About 75 percent of our workers each year are rehires, i.e they return to the same employer and the remaining 30 percent are people who are hired to replace those who have decided to opt out of the scheme or who have been replaced by the employer for one reason or another.

“We are required to distribute the opportunities for work throughout the kingdom and to those who do not have regular employment.”

Most of the workers are from Tongatapu and, in descending order, from Vava’u, Eua and then Haapai and a group of about 20 or so from the two Niuas.

The New Zealand government caps the number of RSE permits at 9000 for workers from the Pacific each season. Most are from Vanuatu, then Tonga (around 1800 or so this season) and then Samoa and smaller numbers from other island nations.

The main points

  • The Labour Manager of one of New Zealand’s largest fruit growing companies said last week Tongan seasonal workers employed by his company faced very few problems.
  • Mr Apple’s Labour Manager told Kaniva News Tongans working under Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme visas at his Hawke’s Bay company earned good money and “most of them are working really well.”
  • The Tongan media has regularly reported on problems faced by seasonal workers.
  • Alistair Jamieson was speaking to Tongan media in Auckland before flying to the kingdom to recruit more workers.

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