An organizing drive by IUF affiliate FIRST Union has moved kiwifruit workers from the minimum wage to the living wage at a major horticulture employer, Seeka, in Kerikeri, Northland. First Union began recruiting workers in pack-houses in mid-2020 under the banner of the Kiwifruit Workers Alliance. The sector traditionally has low wages, no job security and dangerous working conditions.
- In response to COVID-19, New Zealand closed its borders in March 2020, so the usual supply of backpackers and migrant workers that made up the seasonal workforce was no longer available, potentially giving local workers much-improved leverage but they were not organized
- By September 2020 the horticulture employers were pleading that fruit would rot on the vines if border restrictions weren’t eased to let migrant workers back under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. The Government eventually allowed 2,000 RSE placements for early 2021 under the condition that these workers would be paid at least the accredited living wage of NZD 22.10 per hour
- Local workers, some of whom had been in the industry for more than 10 years, earning the minimum wage of NZD 18.90, were outraged, though they wanted their migrant co-workers to be paid a decent rate. FIRST Union began to organize and by January 2021 were ready to start bargaining with Seeka. After two days of negotiations and the union’s rejection of management’s proposal of a 3% and then a 5% pay increase, the company finally offered NZD 22.10 per hour, the accredited living wage, and the union agreed
- New Zealand’s horticulture industry makes big money with exports of kiwifruit worth NZD 2.3 billion in 2019 (1.65 billion USD)
- The campaign is continuing at kiwifruit orchards in the Bay of Plenty, the leading kiwifruit region New Zealand
As Molly, a veteran kiwifruit worker said, “From the employer it’s all, ‘We love you! We love you! We love you!’ when it’s busy, then you don’t even exist anymore when the season’s over.”