Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Vulnerability in New Zealand Dairy Farming: The Case of Filipino Migrants

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Vulnerability in New Zealand Dairy Farming: The Case of Filipino Migrants

Article excerpt


In New Zealand, the dairy industry contributes significantly to the economy. It is responsible for 26 per cent of total merchandise exports. Propelled by the recent world commodity boom, the dairy industry has expanded rapidly, but that expansion has been constrained by problems with recruitment and retention of labour. From 2006 these problems have been overcome by the employment of short term migrants, nearly half of whom originate from the Philippines. This paper explores the inflow of these migrants using Sargeant and Tucker's (2009) framework to document the working, health and safety experiences of Filipino dairy workers in Mid Canterbury, located in the South Island of New Zealand. It explores how they came together and established an association to promote much needed social contact and then advocacy for the many members experiencing employment or immigration difficulties.


advocacy group, dairy farming, employment, Filipino migrants, New Zealand.


At the end of 2010, the dairy industry accounted for 2.8 per cent of New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), over a third of the GDP share of the whole primary sector (dairy and meat farming, processing, horticulture, fishing, forestry and mining) and provided 26 per cent of New Zealand's total goods exports (Schilling, et al 2010). Although the average size of a New Zealand farm is only 536 acres (215 hectares) and most are classified as a small business, substantial growth of this sector has provided an increasing number of employment opportunities, and generated wealth that has rippled throughout New Zealand.

New Zealand's agricultural sector (including dairy) however, has one of the highest rates of work-related injury and illness, accounting for the largest amount of workers' compensation claims for the 2010 year, despite representing only 7 per cent of New Zealand's labour force (Statistics New Zealand, 2011). Furthermore, there is a disproportionate number of people in agriculture and dairying, working long hours (defined as 50 + hours per week). Eleven per cent of all those identified in the 2006 Census worked long hours, but that equated to only 5.6 per cent of total workers (Fursman, 2008). New Zealand dairy farm workers expect to work more than the standard 40 hour working week5. Eighty eight per cent of dairy farm workers surveyed by Searle (2002) expected to work more than 50 hours per week and during the spring over half of respondents expected to work more than 60 hours per week. The working day on a dairy farm is long and time between rostered time off is lengthy. Ninety per cent of all dairy workers surveyed were working for at least seven consecutive days and 75 per cent worked more than ten consecutive days before having time off (Tipples & Greenhalgh, 2011).

The New Zealand dairy industry now faces a severe labour shortage, driven by the expansion of the dairy industry, an aging workforce and prevalence of long working hours and hazardous working conditions. Despite high national levels of youth unemployment (13.4 per cent) and general unemployment (7.3 per cent) for the September 2012 quarter (Statistics New Zealand, 2012), dairy farmers cannot find an adequate supply of suitably skilled farm workers to meet the current and projected labour needs. Federated Farmers and recruitment agencies estimate there is a shortage of at least 2,000 skilled dairy workers. With the dairy industry growing fast, labour shortages are likely to compound, particularly in the South Island where expansion is concentrated (Tipples, et al, 2010). This has resulted in an exponential growth in employing migrant labour to offset the labour shortage.

While migrants working as dairy workers come from a wide range of countries, there has been a notable increase in the number of temporary work visas issued to Filipino workers. Kelly describes the Filipino migratory phenomenon:

"By the late 1980s, for many countries around the world, the Philippines had become a major supplier of subordinate working-class labour. …

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