Sunday, July 3, 2022

Farming force could become ‘new Dutch’

Filipino migrants once considered temporary farm “labour” are becoming fixtures in their communities, employment specialist Dr Rupert Tipples believes. In fact, Filipinos might one day rival the post-war farming success of the Dutch, the Lincoln University researcher ventures. Some Filipinos and other migrants, including Chileans, had secured good positions in a supportive environment, even if it took a few bumps to get there, Tipples said. He saw evidence of this last Easter when he attended employer workshops for migrants in Southland.

A Filipino farmer admitted to initially having a “horrid experience” but was ultimately grateful “because it had shown him how bad things could be”.

He had since moved up the dairy ladder to become a sharemilker – a progression which definitely wasn’t out of the question, Tipples said.

A peer at AgResearch had found a decade ago that dairy-farming migrants were typically older than Kiwis doing similar jobs.

In areas like the Amuri Basin in North Canterbury the newcomers were also often married and their children attended local schools.

It had become apparent that employers were benefitting because migrants workers didn’t “just up and leave” like a New Zealander might.

Filipinos generally came here with a good level of English and were motivated to put down roots and make a living, not only to send cash home but perhaps also to gain residency to set up a life for their children here.

“They’re here to make money and it’s big money compared to what they could earn in the Philippines or wherever. They want to earn money to send back as remittances,” Tipples said.

He suspects there’s more to learn about Filipinos’ welfare, particularly their vulnerability to poor employment practices but he has no doubt about their resilience.

“They’ve actually clubbed together in Ashburton and formed their own society. They are very careful to say it’s not a union but it does act as an advocate on behalf of the community.”

Information is shared freely and Tipples’ sense is “dairy farmers haven’t liked it”.

Tipples’ colleague Jill Greenhalgh has a rider to that statement, saying employers treating migrants badly might not be singling them out.

“I don’t think there’s particular advantage taken of the migrant workers…they would do the same to kiwi workers but kiwi workers can move on. Because of (migrant’s) contracts it’s not so easy for a migrant worker – they have to get permission to change so it reduces the churn.”

Tipples said some employers were also “not adverse to misleading employees as to their chances of moving”.

He is also aware of some employment agents imposing a kind of second employment contract on their clients so they “keep getting a cut of the workers’ pay, for getting them a job”.

Tipples had heard examples “of all sorts of things going on like that” but didn't know how prevalent it would be across the industry.

What’s more certain, Greenhalgh said, is that many international workers are now moving into a second generation of work here.

“That’s what happening in Southland, Ashburton, even Waikato. The migrants are forming their own communities and getting support that way.”

Filipinos, in particular, were inclined to form groups with their compatriots wherever they could.

Filipino farmers were often widely dispersed so the community might not be particularly visible but when the Philippines ambassador Virginia Benavidez visited Ashburton last year they had a big gathering.

The embassy was also now providing staff for meetings to “help people sort stuff out”, Tipples said.

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