Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Union flags concerns about meat industry migrant system

Neal Wallace
New Zealand Meat Workers and Related Trades Union says a definition of “skilled migrant worker” is needed.
Migrant workers need time to adjust to the work and work environment in New Zealand’s meat industry.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Some migrant workers recruited by the meat industry lack the skills required by their immigration visa, according to a meat workers’ union.

Daryl Carran, national secretary of the New Zealand Meat Workers and Related Trades Union, is also concerned meat companies are using labour recruitment companies to source migrant workers, which leaves workers in a limbo about who is responsible for them.

Carran said he has seen cases where Alliance Group has employed migrant staff under Immigration NZ’s Skilled Migrant Workers Visa category, but they do not have the necessary skills.

In one case a worker recruited by the Lorneville plant had previously worked as a telephone technician.

Carran said a definition of “skilled migrant worker” is needed.

“The issue from our perspective is that they are coming out here as skilled migrant workers, but they may have done minimal slaughtering in their village they are from but come over here and they don’t really have the skills.”

Carran said ideally migrant meat workers employed in NZ should have experience in an abattoir or meat works where quality and hygiene standards have to be met.

Chris Selbie, Alliance’s manager of people and safety, said to obtain a visa all overseas workers are required to meet strict skills criteria and fulfil Immigration NZ requirements.

“This includes providing evidence of previous knife skills experience. 

“The skilled migrants we engaged meet the baseline skills required by Immigration New Zealand.”

The government requires migrants employed up to February 27 to be paid at least $27.76 an hour, and $29.90/hr after that date.

Carran said Alliance is paying migrant workers as much as $12 or $13 an hour more than local staff who, in most cases, Carran said, have greater skills.

Selbie said the disparity has been corrected.

“We were made aware of the union’s concerns with regards to pay disparity and these have been addressed.

“There is currently no pay disparity between the people being trained and their equivalent workers.”

The migrant workers have come from Pacific Islands and parts of Asia, and Carran said some have been sourced by labour hire companies, which creates ambiguity about who is responsible for that worker.

He estimates that about 80 of the approximately 160 migrant workers at Lorneville were recruited by a labour broker and the rest by Alliance.

Recently one of those workers was dismissed and found himself without a home or income.

Carran said the worker had borrowed money to travel to NZ and had little prospect of borrowing more to return home.

He found accommodation with a friend and Carran said it appears the man may have found another job.

The way he was recruited, Carran said, it could have ended very differently.

Unlike Pacific Islanders, workers from Asia often do not have the support of family and friends in NZ.

Carran said there is no necessity to use recruitment firms and he wants companies to employ migrant workers directly. 

Selbie said migrants do need time to adjust to the work and work environment.

“As with any skilled worker entering a processing environment in a new country, they need time to be inducted to new product specifications and local work practices.”

Selbie said the co-operative has a labour shortage and Southland has low unemployment.

“While our preference is always to employ people from our local communities, in recent years we have had to recruit skilled people from overseas to make up the shortfall in numbers.”

Migrant workers represent a small proportion of Alliance’s total workforce, he said.

Carran confirmed the union and co-operative are about to start contract talks. 

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