Kiwi company developing survey to help uncover worker exploitation

  • 03/08/2020
In a recent pilot, 2600 workers were surveyed and 1500 responded.
In a recent pilot, 2600 workers were surveyed and 1500 responded. Photo credit: Getty

By Tom Kitchin of RNZ

A Hawke's Bay company believes it will be the first in the world to develop a mobile friendly survey to uncover serious workers rights problems in horticulture.

This comes as the first person ever in New Zealand to be convicted for human trafficking and slavery, Joseph Auga Matamata, was sentenced to 11 years in prison this week.

Matamata was an orchard contractor based in Hastings. Over more than 20 years, he brought Samoans to New Zealand, promising them money but did not pay them..

He made them work for 14 hour days and beat them if they didn't follow his strict rules.

New Zealand Apples and Pears business development manager Gary Jones said the industry has realised it needs to develop ways to stop this exploitation.

"We have to be partnering the development of systems and processes which look deep into those supply chains and essentially elevate the voice of the employee and the worker, so we can hear those voices and understand how they're being looked after," Jones told RNZ.

Jones said the industry had commissioned Havelock North company Ask Your Team to help build an online survey which would ask employees anonymously about their experience.

In a recent pilot, 2600 workers were surveyed and 1500 (nearly 60 percent) responded.

"We were able to ascertain with that very large group a lot of how they were feeling about their workplace conditions," Jones said.

"Then the employers were able to adjust how they employ those workers and to improve outcomes for their well-being."

Ask Your Team chief executive Chris O'Reilly said his company helps organisations improve productivity and leadership by giving employees a voice.

"There's a hole world-wide in the ability to truly represent and capture worker well-being in at risk industries in particularly with seasonal workers," O'Reilly said.

"We think NZ can lead the way."

Every employee would get a link and unique number to their smart phone.

There had to be an agreement between employers and the employee to use the survey.

"But it will become very apparent if anyone doesn't want to participate, that in itself becomes very telling," O'Reilly said.

A wider pilot is expected in October and a global launch is the next aim.

A few hours after Matamata's sentencing, the Government announced a $50 million investment to protect migrant workers.

The money would including creating new visa system and a free phone number to support migrants, a free phone number and enforcing higher working standards.

Ask Your Team was not part of the new investment, but O'Reilly said there were ongoing conversations with the Government.

O'Reilly said recent pilots have been paid by NZ Apples and Pears on behalf of the industry.