Week in Review

Boss allegedly assaulted seasonal worker

Newsroom can now reveal there are additional allegations around a tape-recorded meeting seasonal workers had with their boss - and what is alleged to have happened when the recording stopped

Police say they will charge a man with assault in relation to a tape-recorded meeting between seasonal workers and a boss. 

"A 39-year-old man has been summoned to appear in the Hastings District Court on 20 July to answer a charge of common assault," a police spokeswoman said.

The workers allege they weren't dismissed through proper employment procedures.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has "demanded assurances" from Immigration New Zealand that workers employed by the organisation concerned are safe.

“I am advised that senior Immigration New Zealand staff are going to visit tomorrow to double check that this has happened. I expect the welfare of the workers involved to be prioritised."

National Party immigration spokesman Stuart Smith said the Government's "inaction" in exercising its emergency immigration powers to change visa conditions had helped create the situation.

"We rushed it [the legislation] through with great haste - which we supported - and then we had glacial progress from that point on."

A taped conversation between a manager and his seasonal employees from the Solomon Islands shows him threatening to withhold their allowance, report them to Immigration NZ, and hold back their flights home after he found out they had complained to MBIE.

The assault charge is separate.

One of the workers, Danny Lau, made a statement to police on June 19 that he was assaulted after the meeting ended.

Lau alleged he was grabbed by the collar and said: "I can take all your teeth out right now with my fist". 

The accused man declined Newsroom's request for comment on the summons.

"Can you stop calling please? You're not helping. So if you can just delete my number and leave me alone please."

Lau spoke to Newsroom about the allegations he made before police confirmed the charge.

He said he had been threatened that  the man could "out my tooth with his fist".

"I was feeling frightened and just helpless ... I know he's going to do something on me."

In his statement to police, Lau said he was let go after he said "I'm sorry, I'm sorry boss".  

'Poor oversight'

Advocates for the workers insist they initially sought assurances of anonymity when they made a complaint to MBIE about a boss.

The investigator initially put in charge, Rick Brown, was understood to have a personal relationship with the man and revealed the identities of those who complained. He would later be taken off the investigation due to concerns about a conflict of interest.

Smith said the fact that someone with a suspected conflict of interest was put in charge of the early stages of the investigation showed there was "poor ministerial oversight" of the scheme. 

"It should never have happened."

He had alerted authorities to other cases of seasonal worker exploitation - similar to those alleged in the Newsroom investigation - but had never been able to prove them.

"There have been rumours about this sort of behaviour going on. And we have raised this and yet we still have this incident so I'm very disappointed."

Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) visa conditions leave workers like Lau unable to find an alternative employer easily on their own.

The Government's refusal to enact s64 of the Social Security Act has left them unable to access benefits while they're here. The closure of borders has meant they can't freely fly home.

Lees-Galloway said a government programme to grant aid to foreign nationals through the Red Cross was available to them.

However, this can only be accessed once workers and their families have exhausted their savings here and overseas. Even when they do so they are still required to go to their consulate first.

In the absence of government support, one RSE employer has been forced to consider making their permanent staff redundant in order to support their RSE workers financially through the winter.

The situation has left the workers Newsroom spoke to surviving on very small amounts of money based on their earnings from the harvest here. One said she was living on $30 per week, an amount that would allow her to buy instant noodles, rice, tuna and bread, but not fruit or vegetables.

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