Tongan seasonal workers doing essential jobs qualify for help under NZ emergency package

‘Oku faingamālie pe kau Tonga ngāue he polokalama toli fakafa’ahi ta’u ‘a Nu’u Sila pea ‘oku nau ngāue pe lolotonga ‘a hono loka ‘o e fonua’ tu’unga he vailasi kolona’. ‘Oku kau ‘enau ngāue’ fiema’u vivili ‘a e fonua pe Essential Services. Kapau ikai ke nau ngaue ‘oku nau kualafai ke ma’u ‘a e NZ$585 he uike kapau ‘ikai nau lava ngāue. 'Oku hu mai e pekesi (package) ko 'eni 'a e pule'anga ma'a e kau toli' 'i 'olunga ia 'i hono kamata hiki he uike' ni 'a e vāhenga ma'olalo taha 'o e taha ngāue ki he $18.50 ki he houa. Ka puke ha taha he vailasi kolona ‘e lava foaki ‘a ‘ene sick leave aho e 14. Fakahā ‘e Sefita Hao’uli ki he Kaniva’ ‘oku faingamālie pe ‘a e tamaiki pea ‘oku fai pe fetu’utaki mo kinautolu neongo ‘oku ‘i ai pe ngaahi me’a ke tokanga’i fekau’aki mo e fiema’u ke nau tauhi pau ki he nofo ma’u ki honau nofo’anga hili ‘a e ngāue’.

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Sefita Hao'uli and a Tonga employee in New Zealand. Photo/Kalino Lātū (Kaniva Tonga News)

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Tongan workers in New Zealand on Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme contracts are covered for medical costs and sick leave under New Zealand’s Essential Services package.

Under their own compulsory insurance, the workers costs for doctors’ visits and medicine are covered but the government will pay for sick leave and self-isolation if caused by the coronavirus.

Just over 1700 Tongan seasonal workers are employed in horticulture throughout New Zealand and are required to work during the nationwide shutdown.

Sefita Hao’uli, the Tongan RSE Liaison Officer in New Zealand told Kaniva news that the workers will be in just over 50 jobsites in both the North and the South Islands.

Hao’uli said RSE employees who were regarded as doing essential work automatically qualified for the NZ$585 employment benefit if they are unable to work through illness or if work is unavailable.  

“But there is no shortage of work for us at present.  Almost everyone is fully employed and there’s a lot of overtime in some of our busier pack-houses”, he said.

He said that the RSE workers are aware of the need to contribute to essential services and to protect food supply for the country while other workers are asked to stay at home.

“We have explained and our workers know that it is in everyone’s benefit to help control the spread of the virus by staying at home but we must also ensure that there’s food available at the supermarket for everyone”, he said

The government’s package comes on top of the increase in the minimum wage of $18.90 an hour before tax which came into effect this week.  

The measure will give workers on the minimum wage around $50 more per week before tax.

If an RSE worker became sick during the Covid-19 alerts he was entitled to 14 days sick leave, something, according to New Zealand laws, which could only be offered if an employee had been working in New Zealand for a year.

RSE workers normally worked less than a year, so they were not previously entitled to it. 

Hao’uli said he had been contacting employers since the lockdown to make sure the employees were safe and had access to all the benefits to which they were entitled.

Some employers who had many employees living on their farms had rented more accommodation to make sure there was space and good ventilation for the employees, he said. 

Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa told Kaniva news late today he had been told by the Minister of Internal Affairs that arrangements had been made with the New Zealand High Commissioner in Tonga regarding Tongan RSE workers in New Zealand.

Immigration Ministry

The New Zealand Government’s epidemic management notice relating to immigration comes into effect tomorrow (April 2) 2020.

Immigration New Zealand said it was  contacting all RSE employers whose workers hold visas that expired on or before 1 April. RSE employers were being asked to submit the names of these workers to indicate they require a renewed visa.

During the Level 4 Alert period RSE workers were only permitted to do essential work, Immigration New Zealand said.

If an RSE worker currently in New Zealand was required to isolate themselves for 14 days during their time here, their employer must make appropriate accommodation and pastoral care facilities available for them.

Costs incurred during any self-isolation period, including accommodation and living costs, were the responsibility of the worker themselves, as during the normal course of employment.

While RSE workers were eligible for the sick-leave scheme, employers were  required to apply for the subsidy on behalf of workers.

Workers who received government funding if they fell sick or had to isolate themselves would still need to pay for their food and accommodation during this time.

Under existing medical insurance, RSE workers were entitled to receive medical treatment for any presenting conditions, including COVID-19.

Translations

The Ministry of Pacific Peoples has published translations of key information about the Covid-19 crisis by Tongan community leaders.

These include videos and key documents. The link to the translations can be found below.

The main points

  • Tongan workers in New Zealand on Recognised Seasonal Employment contracts are covered  by New Zealand’s Essential Services package.
  • Sefita Hao’uli, the Tongan RSE Liaison Officer in New Zealand told Kaniva news this meant workers were still working in the farms while the country was in lock down.
  • Hao’uli said RSE employees who were regarded as doing essential work they automatically qualified for the  $585 employment benefit for those unable to work.