National MP Lockwood Smith is in trouble for what he said in Blenheim yesterday when discussing the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme) a scheme that brings in vineyard workers for a few months from overseas to meet labour shortages in the industry. Many workers came to Blenheim this winter to assist with pruning. Pruning involves three main steps:
1. making the key pruning cuts;
2. stripping out all the old vines;
3. then winding the remaining canes onto the wire and tying them down.
On the vines we pruned, Aaron was much better at the first two tasks because a lot of strength was required and I was quicker at the third because my hands are smaller and it’s a fiddly job working with bread ties. Where possible, many groups of workers divided their labour up so that those suited to each task could specialise. This often meant the men went through the vineyard first doing the pruning cuts and stripping, while the women followed doing the tying down. However, I suspect there aren’t as many women in the seasonal worker scheme. I imagine it is often more difficult for women to leave their families and travel here to work. Some vineyard owners that had Asian workers noted that these guys were also fast at the tying down.
Dr Smith said,
“For example some of the pruning…some of the Asian workers have been more productive…because their hands are smaller.”
He was advocating for allowing more Asian workers to be part of the RSE scheme because of feedback he had received from employers that these workers were better at some vineyard work because of their small hands. Last year the majority of workers came from Pacific Forum countries. He also pointed out that some of the workers needed significant education to adapt to New Zealand’s way of life. He made this point to suggest that the government needs to help by providing some sort of induction course to help overseas workers settle in New Zealand.
“Some of them are having to teach them things like how to use a toilet or shower…I don’t think the employer should have to pay for that work.
“I think if this is partly an aid scheme, the Government has to address how it’s involved in that.”
Now during the day I’ve heard Dr Smith’s comments described as racist, as ridiculous, as foolish and as “not helping race relations.”
He may’ve stereotyped, but is that the same as being racist? Is it any different to the reputation Kiwis have in the UK for being hard workers? Is it racist to point out generalised differences between races of people? Isn’t it less racist to acknowledge the good work of these Asian pruners and allow them equal access to the RSE? Isn’t it less racist to acknowledge cultural differences and to look at ways of making workers arrival into New Zealand an easier transition? What do you think?