Monday, August 08, 2022

Government-sponsored debt-slavery

Stuff this morning has an appalling story about the exploitation of RSE workers in Blenheim, with workers being overcharged for substandard accommodation, denied sick-leave, and held in what is effectively debt-slavery:

Migrant horticulture workers are being housed six men to a room, charged $150 a week to sleep in freezing and damp conditions which see them fall sick repeatedly, and then refused paid sick leave.

One worker living in a crowded motel unit in Blenheim became so unwell he was coughing blood, but his boss initially refused to take him to the doctor, telling him to go to The Warehouse and buy paracetamol instead.


Conditions are so bad, some of the workers say they are desperate to go home, but have been unable because they are in debt to their employers for flights, work clothing, or tools. Some have so many deductions from their pay each week, they end up with as little as $100.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo, who investigated this, is quite explicit in calling this as debt bondage, "where salary deductions are being used as a means to financially control workers". This is meant to be a crime in Aotearoa, but the way the RSE scheme is set up virtually guarantees it. Rather than being free to work for anyone, RSE workers are "bonded" to a particular employer, held captive to allow their exploitation. Effectively, we have a system of government-sponsored debt-slavery for the benefit of the horticultural industry.

We need to end this exploitative system. And the easiest way of doing it is to end bonding and give people real visas, so workers can move to non-exploitative employers. Of course, that would defeat the purpose - to provide the horticultural industry with cheap, captive labour to subsidise their profits. So I guess our chickenshit Labour government - supposedly a worker's party - will let this exploitation continue.