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Vanuatu recruiter denies worker exploitation

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, July 25, 2011) – A Ni-Vanuatu recruiter has rejected claims New Zealand and Australian fruit picking schemes violate the rights of workers.

The US State Department recently described New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme as verging on human trafficking and debt-bonded labour.

Recruiter John Salong told Pacific Beat there was no evidence to support the American claims.

"To me, it is an indication that an official did not understand how the scheme was made and what the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme is all about," he said.

Under the scheme, workers from Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands go to New Zealand to work in the horticulture industry.

Vanuatu entered the scheme in 2007 and several thousand workers have worked in New Zealand for various lengths of time.

Mr Salong also recruits for Australia's pilot seasonal workers program.

He said under both schemes, workers were supported by government policy framework and received "ongoing support at all levels".

"There is not any claim of workers being exploited," he said.

Mr Salong said in Australia and New Zealand, Ni-Vanuatu workers were not earning less than minimum wage.

"Conditions fulfill union requirements and labour laws," he said.

[PIR editor’s note: The Sunday Star Times (New Zealand) reported that the U.S. State Department is investigating bonds used to bring minimum wage workers from Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands to New Zealand for the seasonal work scheme. The Star quotes an unidentified source as saying, "The burden of illegal costs and debts on these labourers in the source country, often with the support of labour agencies and employers in the destination country, can contribute to a situation of debt bondage."]

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