Solomon Islands RSE scheme workers await verdict in ongoing trial

Three seasonal workers from the Solomon Islands who say their weekly wages were sometimes reduced to zero from deductions are waiting on a Court of Appeal decision on their case.

They claim the deductions were unlawful and filed a lawsuit against their employer, Pick Hawkes Bay, in 2020.

Their most recent recent hearing was last week in Napier.

The workers allege that their employer made unauthorised deductions from their wages for wet weather gear and travel costs. They have also contested their work hours.

The RSE workers were employed by Pick Hawke’s Bay during the 2018-2019 season and for several years before and after that.

The company’s solicitor Jol Bates told RNZ Pacific the company denies exploiting any of its seasonal workers and that the costs deducted were authorised and reasonable.

The Chief Judge of the Employment Court decided that a full Court (three judges) would hear the case with the Human Rights Commission, the Council of Trade Unions, and Horticulture New Zealand as intervenors.

Human Rights Commission’s lawyer Philippa Mitskevitch told the court there was a power imbalance and migrant workers are a particularly vulnerable group.

She pointed out that international human rights law recognises migrant workers as an especially vulnerable group, many of whom are low-paid.

“The vulnerability of migrant workers often stems from the control or substantial influence their employers have over their visa status. Furthermore, many migrant workers are hindered by language barriers when attempting to access legal support, leaving them unaware of their rights.”

“This power imbalance makes it challenging for workers to reject unreasonable employment conditions or challenge deductions from their minimum wage.”

Mitskevitch argued that the rights of these vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers, should be prioritised to ensure their protection.

Pacific Island Community Trust Bay of Plenty’s Whanau Ora Facilitator Beryl Razak provides pastoral care for the three; Lyn Soapi, Danny Lau and Mary Lau; said they do not wish to comment at this time but they are hopeful.

Razak said the three are doing well and are hopeful.

“If they win this case, this will set the bar for all our Pacific RSE workers. We can only hope, and I guess we will wait until the decision comes out.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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