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"WWOOFERS" - Yeah Right!

There is an interesting phenomena that has crept into the country under the radar, not to put too fine a point on it! This relates to the wonderful world of Willing Workers On Organic Farms - commonly known as Wwoofers. 

It all appears very innocent on the surface, and wonderful way for people (with an interest in organics in particular) to meet, work, socialise, travel and generally get to share interests in common while travelling round the country. It relates in the main to like minded youngsters who get to see the country by staying a day or two, and helping out organic growers in return for accommodation, meals, and possibly a little monetary remuneration, though that appears to be the exception to the rule.

Stories abound on the net about how enriching and fulfilling is the experience of travelling round the country in this manner. And here is the relevant WWOOFER website: It outlines two categories of 'host':

WWOOF hosts

WWOOF hosts are organic farmers and growers. They enjoy passing on their knowledge of sustainable and organic practices. Volunteering with a WWOOF host is about helping on an organic property and learning and experiencing organic and biodynamic farming and gardening. As a host you are improving communication and helping grow the organic movement!

Cultural Exchange hosts

Cultural Exchange hosts offer social, humanitarian and conservation experiences that fall outside organic growing practices. They may include activities such as help in conservation, building projects, crafts, animal care or sustainable tourism.

On the face of it, this arrangement appears to be of advantage to both sides of the deal, but there is no indication on the website just how these host arrangements are managed, or supervised. This may be perfectly acceptable, but as we all know, there are people out there who will take advantage of any situation loose enough to allow them to avoid their responsibilities as employers, and it is the second category in particular that concerns me. And I don't see any mention of the hospitality industry there.

What is happening right under our eyes is the insidious penetration of unpaid workers into sections of the hospitality industry in particular under this innocuous guise of ‘organic gardening.’ Whether our Department of Employment is even aware of this trend is moot, but it is essential that it be stopped in its tracks right now before it is too late to do anything about it.

It appears that there are literally thousands of jobs throughout the country that have been taken by unpaid workers for up to three months at a time – often working shifts in bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels and other venues where they are displacing New Zealanders who may otherwise be working full or part-time, often in order to secure some income while studying. But that may just be the tip of the ice-berg.

It has even been reported that this is what is happening right here and now on the Peninsula, along with just about every else on the map where tourists and young people in particular like to gather, and quite possibly many other areas as well. This has been brought to my attention following my earlier post regarding foreigners working here on short term permits, and occupying large sections of New Zealand rural industries in particular - at least that is visible, and regulated. 

There are reportedly over 20 such establishments in and around the north of the Peninsula where these conditions exist, and where so-called ‘Wwoofers’ are being used in this manner. It is reported that one employer in Queenstown uses this labour double shift, eight at a time on three month cycles. Imagine what that little rort does to his balance sheet!

Unscrupulous employers are literally securing ‘willing’ workers in nothing short of slave-like conditions in return for providing a modicum of cheap accommodation, and it is reported often expired or surplus food. It is simply not acceptable to say that there is nothing wrong – ‘willing buyer and seller,’ as is the justification often used.   

Who is watching this situation develop, or more important doing anything about it? Have you heard of any examples that you can add? – they should be reported without delay to your local Department, or better still - Scott Simpson. If something is not done to prevent this new development, the entire tourism industry will be tainted, particularly as others join in in order to compete with those who already employ unpaid labour in this manner.

This post should not for one second be interpreted as a criticism of the “Wwoofer’ concept, or industries where seasonal outdoor labour is in short supply, and in particular where the concept of people working for short periods on ‘organic’ farms obviously has a virtuous motive and mutual advantage.

Such is not the case in this replaciment ng Kiwi workers under the guise of "cultural exchange" in the hospitality industry through the application of slack entry rules. Sometimes unscrupulous employers will drive a horse and cart through any loophole in the law, and this surely appears one such case. 



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