Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says he was surprised by the attitude of some members of the Education and Workforce Select Committee when he spoke to the organisation’s submission on the Employment Relations (Triangular Relationships) Amendment Bill today.
"I thank National MP Nikki Kaye for calling out the comments about our submission from Labour MP Kieran McAnulty. We appeared in good faith to speak to our submission and were speechless when we were told we did not understand what the Bill proposes and then had to watch the MPs fight about it," Chapman says.
"What was not understood, and not listened to by some members of the select committee, was the horticulture industry’s unique position. We were trying to explain the impact this Bill and other related proposed employment legislation will have on the small and medium sized businesses that grow our healthy fruit and vegetables.
"We do not support this Bill because we believe it will have unintended consequences, including requiring additional legal requirements for companies and organisations who are already fully compliant with New Zealand law.
"If the target of the Bill is to prevent worker exploitation, then we submit and support increased investigation, enforcement and compliance activities focused on those employers who are responsible for exploitation. We believe New Zealand law already has provision for this.
"We reject worker exploitation and as an industry, have active programmes to stop it.
"Due to the seasonal nature of horticulture, our workers are a mixture of permanent and seasonal workers with many seasonal workers progressing to full time positions after a few seasons work and training. The growers in the industry are mostly small to medium sized businesses with a few larger corporates in some sectors. Therefore, changes in employment law can have a dramatic effect on the ability of these businesses to remain profitable and continue to offer job opportunities to New Zealanders. The vast majority of our employers offer training programmes and incentivise New Zealanders into seasonal and permanent work. As such horticulture is a significant employer and a key factor in the maintenance of provincial New Zealand’s cultural and social aspects.
"Today we were trying to explain this to the select committee, and how moves to compulsory unionism - which we believe are contained in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, as well as this Bill - would impact growers.
"To be told this was utter nonsense was a surprise, though Mr McAnulty did apologise for the delivery of his message, rather than the content of the message."