A union for migrant workers is calling for standard employment agreement for diary farm workers following a “shocking” report into the New Zealand dairy farm industry.
The study “In search of decent work” found migrant dairy farm workers from the Philippines were being abused, exploited, underpaid and made to work in dangerous conditions.
Dennis Maga, co-ordinator for The Union Network of Migrants (Unemig), said the findings were “shocking”.
“We already have suspicions that the industry was problematic, but it was more widespread and worse that we expected,” Maga said.”The report justified our position to investigate the dairy farm industry.”
The study, authored by former Green Party MP Sue Bradford and University of Auckland senior lecturer Sue Abel, interviewed 27 Filipino and three local dairy farm workers and one dairy farm manager.
It was conducted over six months from July to November last year, and looked into the employment and living conditions of these workers.
“There’s a divided labour market in the dairy industry, and that harms both migrant workers and New Zealand workers,” Maga said.
The study found that Filipino workers were “being exploited in ways New Zealanders aren’t”.
About 1700 Filipinos are working on dairy farms in New Zealand.
One farm worker said he wasn’t given a helmet to ride around on a motorbike and another said that for two years, he was made to ride a bike that didn’t have lights or brakes.
Another respondent said he was not provided proper training or wet weather gear, and had to pay $700 from his own pocket to buy one.
“I spray weeds with no protective gear,” one South Island Filipino worker said.
“I just keep vomiting with all the chemicals I use.”
One said there were times when he had to work a whole month without a single day off.
Authors of the report said these workers often came from desperate situations and had very few choices.
“The hesitancy and caution found in the interview process itself only served to confirm the reality of these pressures.”
The report said the fault for poor conditions partly lies with “policies and practices of some farm employers and of a government which encourages migration without careful workforce planning”.
Maga said a solution was to have standard employment agreements for all workers, with wages set at the living wage of $20.20 per hour.
“We have had workers telling us they are on $48,000 per year, but in reality they are paid below the minimum wage if you broke that down to the number of hours they had to work,” he said.
These migrant farm workers should also have standardised rosters with an upper minimum limit on the hours worked, Maga said, and access to breaks, holidays and proper training.
The report is being released today at the First Union head office in Auckland, and will coincide with Unemig’s fifth anniversary.