Solidarity needed: Stop increases to migrant seasonal workers health insurance

Regional Seasonal Employer scheme used by New Zealand vineyards

An RSE worker

The death this year of a Tongan worker employed under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme has sparked discussions between Tonga’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and the insurance company he paid for his health cover. The issue is whether the worker died because of a pre-existing condition or from a new condition or accident.

The RSE scheme allows employers in the horticulture and viticulture industries to bring in migrant workers, mostly from the South Pacific, during the busy season to fill labour shortages. Although these workers pay tax in New Zealand they are not eligible for public health care and require private health insurance.

The ministry’s deputy chief executive, Meleoni Uera, told Radio New Zealand International that the policy needs to be revised even if it results in RSE workers – on top of taxes – having to pay higher insurance premiums and also pay for additional mandatory medical checks.

“It is an area that we will look at… (with) thorough discussion with different parties because cost will be involved in the whole process, and for a lot of this it will be the seasonal workers currently, they bear the cost of any additional checks.”

The cause of death is unknown. The man was the second Tongan RSE worker to die while working in New Zealand in the last six years. The other died of a heart attack. A Ni-Vanuatu worker also died in New Zealand in that time.

The New Zealand-based Tonga Advisory Council is reminding potential applicants for the RSE scheme to make full disclosures, particularly about health.

Being required to pay taxes, but not receive public health care is disadvantaging to RSE workers. The attitude of internal affairs is to increase that disadvantage by increasing the already burdensome costs of health insurance. These are the types of disadvantages that migrant workers frequently face.

The government will seek to show that RSE workers with medical conditions are ‘cheating’ the system. The issue then is why people would travel to a foreign country when they have serious health issues. The answer is simple; people are becoming desperate in the search for comparably better incomes than are available in their own countries. It is the same with the 53,700 people, in 2012 alone, who left New Zealand looking for a better life in Australia.

Just as some Australian unions show common cause with New Zealand workers in Australia, workers in New Zealand must align themselves with the RSE workers here. New Zealand residents do not gain anything from the exploitation or ill-treatment of RSE workers. And they certainly won’t profit from the New Zealand government forcing tax-paying RSE workers to pay higher premiums to insurance companies.


  1. Why are we bring in workers from the islands anyway?

    Those on the dole or the DPB should be made to work in the horticulture and viticulture industries if there are vacancies that cannot be filled.

    If they refuse to take up the positions then they should have their dole or DPB canceled immediately.

  2. You don’t want to debate the issue Byron?

    I am interested as to why those who are seeking work would not take up any position that came available. If it happened to be picking fruit then so be it.

    • well I’m genuinely not sure if you are serious or just trolling- I wonder why someone would come to a website which advocates for the rights of the oppressed, and post a comment with a subtext that calls for restricting the mobility of workers and cutting welfare entitlements for single parents, those sort of views are not what we’re about here.

  3. Byron. See this is the bit I do not get about the hard left (and that is not meant to be taken as an insult). My taxes, and the taxes of thousands of other hard working Kiwis go toward paying out welfare for those who cannot work, those who are genuinely injured or genuinely ill. I don’t mind that, I am happy to live in a society where we look after the weak.

    What I cannot abide is paying out the dole to bludgers who will not take any work on offer and those females who choose to breed because the DPB encourages them to do so.

    Why would a worker want to support such parasites?

    • “My taxes, and the taxes of thousands of other hard working Kiwis” – Only 0.3% of your taxes go on unemployment benefits, and 0.6% on the Domestic Purposes benefit (have a look at lots of useful figures there)

      Given that according to the ministry of social development the vast majority of people on the unemployment benefit (81%) are on it for less than a year, surely the number of “bludgers who will not take any work on offer” is incredibly low, and costing a tiny fraction of a percent of your tax dollars. I don’t think this is an unreasonable price to pay for having a welfare safety net, given that capitalism can’t provide jobs for everyone.

      We’ve published a bit about the DPB, I’d suggest you have a look at the articles ‘Defending the Domestic Purposes Benefit‘ and ‘Rethinking Domestic Purposes‘.

      I’d be interested to see any evidence you have for the claim that “females…choose to breed because the DPB encourages them to do so” given that raising a child in New Zealand costs around quarter of a million dollars having children on the DPB is hardly a sound money making strategy.

      I’d also highly recommend this article, looking at why poor women make the choice to have children, more dole money isn’t really a factor, its more to do with the fact that motherhood is seen as an achievable life goal for these women, while other goals are seen as unachievable.

      Making opportunities, such as higher education, available to women in those socio-economic groups would be a way to reduce the numbers on the DPB.

      That said I would still argue that raising children constitutes valuable work, and having parents raise their children at home actually costs less of those precious tax dollars than putting them in childcare so the parents can find work.

  4. “I’d also highly recommend this article, looking at why poor women make the choice to have children, more dole money isn’t really a factor, its more to do with the fact that motherhood is seen as an achievable life goal for these women, while other goals are seen as unachievable. ”

    Simple, we remove breeding for a living as an option. The piece I have quoted from your reply (and it could have been any other piece) just shows the fallacy of overly generous welfare handouts. If you take away the incentive to work then it is human nature for a bludger or parasite to sit there with their hand out.

    • I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re not a troll, but note that our comment policy (clearly stated over on the right of the page) says “comments containing racist or abusive language will be deleted.” if you continue to use derogatory terms like “bludger” and “breeding for a living” moderators will start removing your comments.

  5. I’m still highly sceptical of the idea that removing or cutting the DPB would result in fewer births, the birth rate for New Zealand has remained steady (around 2 live births per woman) since the early 1970’s (DPB payments started in 1974) they were higher prior to the early 1970s though I would credit the contraceptive pill with lowering rates.

    In 2010 there were 97,000 people on the DPB (mostly women) and 177,226 children reliant on a DPB recipient, that’s 1.8 children per DPB recipient- the birthrate at that time was 2.12 meaning a woman on the DPB is actually less likely to have more children than a woman in paid work and/or dependant on a partner

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