Church supporting RSE Ni-Vanuatu workers, Dept of Labour to investigate contractor

Wednesday 30 July 2008, 9:12AM
By Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand has expressed concern about the treatment of Ni-Vanuatu RSE workers in New Zealand. Disturbed by reports from workers, a Presbyterian Church minister recently sought the help of a lawyer who reported a Marlborough contractor to the Dept of Labour. The employer is being investigated for imposing on workers a petrol levy of $20 per person per week.

Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, the Right Rev Pamela Tankersley says, "Last week I met with the leaders of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu and they expressed concern about the treatment of Ni-Vanuatu RSE workers in New Zealand. They asked that the Church support their people as part of our partnership in mission. We do this willingly, but we believe that the employers have an obligation to treat their Ni-Vanuatu employees fairly in both pay and conditions. The care our Church offers the workers is a gift to friends, not part of an employment package."

Local Presbyterian churches in the Bay of Plenty, Marlborough, and Central Otago are, says Pamela telling of RSE Vanuatu workers coming to them for the kind of help and support the workers believed would be provided by their employers.

“We are hearing stories of workers who are cold and hungry. Some arrive to find they will be crammed into houses sleeping many per room, each having an exorbitant amount deducted from their pay for rent and power. Worse some arrive to find no roof over their heads,” Pamela says.

“Te Aka Puaho, the Presbyterian Maori synod, tells of a number of groups of Ni-Vanuatu workers left stranded without accommodation or with cold, leaking caravans provided. They arranged for them all to stay at Ohope Marae over a period of months until adequate housing could be found. In Te Puke, a group of Vanuatu workers were without food and clothes for four weeks and Te Aka Puaho and the local Presbyterian church responded. In Central Otago a local parish has given much care to Ni-Vanuatu cherry pickers, providing them with warm clothing and Sunday lunches.

“The assistance our churches give the Ni-Vanuatu workers is freely given and from the heart but we recognise that the Ni-Vanuata workers should never have been put into a position of need and that the promised support from employers should have been provided. It is only fair and just that these problems are addressed before the next season of Ni-Vanuatu workers arrive”.

The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand’s has long had a deep commitment to the Ni-Vanuatu people. The Church’s primary mission relationship is with the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, the largest church in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu has provided the greater number of workers in the first year of the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, with 1,600 Ni-Vanuatu workers in New Zealand.