Task force set up to deal with Aussie and NZ concerns over Tongan seasonal workers

    The government has established a task force to deal with New Zealand and Australian employers’ concerns over Tongan fruit pickers who have worked in their farms.

    The task force included staff from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and some district and town officers.

    Their jobs included making sure only the reliable and trustworthy employees were picked for the programmes, the Prime Minister told Kaniva News.

    Tongan workers have the worst record of any group of Pacific Islands employees for absconding in New Zealand and overstaying their visas.

    A total of 16 Tongan employees are still at large in New Zealand after fleeing when most of them were due to return to Tonga.

    In March eight Tongan employees who worked for Turners and Growers in Kerikeri were sent home after being accused of drinking alcohol, being violent and being unable to carry out their tasks.

    These incidents triggered a mission for the Prime Minister to come to New Zealand last month to mend the kingdom’s relationship with New Zealand’s orchard employers.

    Two weeks after Hon. Pohiva returned to Tonga two more workers went awol the following week.

    A search by the company and Tongan authorities in New Zealand found them in south Auckland and they were immediately put on a flight back to Tonga the same day.

    Hon. Pohiva said the task force was set up in response to what he told the New Zealand employers that his government will review the recruitment process in order to address discipline issues among the Tongan workers at the site.

    While in New Zealand the labour manager of New Zealand’s biggest apple supplier Allister Jamieson, promised Hon. Pohiva his company will continue to bring Tongan employees to New Zealand.

    Mr. Apple has employed more than 400 Tongan employees.

    However, it was not guaranteed during the meetings in New Zealand with the Prime Minister whether the employers would continue to keep the number of Tongans they had employed or they would reduce it.

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