Some New Zealanders don’t understand primary production and the importance of trade:
A number of New Zealanders are outraged that staff at largely export-driven food manufacturers are required to work during lockdown, leading to questions over the fairness of putting employees’ health at risk for the sake of feeding foreign markets.
It is valid to question if all possible measures to keep workers safe from Covid-19 are being observed, but not to discount the importance of processing food for export.
An employee of an unnamed onion processing factory claims staff are required to work throughout New Zealand’s four-week lockdown, despite all the produce being exported overseas.
“I work in a food factory that processes onions – hardly essential by themselves. They export them all overseas, none go to the local market, but these guys have decided to stay open,” the worker, who Newshub has decided to keep anonymous, told MagicTalk host Ryan Bridge on Tuesday.
Onions might not be essential by themselves, but does the worker want them left in paddocks to rot, does he not want a job when the pandemic is over and does he not want the country to keep up the trade that will be essential for economic recovery?
“I don’t see what good that’s doing for New Zealand in this situation. The directors have decided because they can, because they’re a food manufacturer, they’re going to stay open… it’s not cool, I’m really aggravated by it.”
The employee says the factory has given staff an ultimatum: if they don’t want to work, they don’t get paid.
“I have to work… if we don’t, we don’t get any money. I don’t really have a choice, everyone needs a wage coming in,” he said.
If the factory isn’t operating, the business doesn’t get income and if there’s no income how will it pay its staff?
“Everyone’s health is at risk for absolutely no gain. An onion is not essential, especially when it’s getting sent overseas.” . .
All workers have the right to be safe from disease just as they have the right to be safe in every other way at work.
The worker can ask for safety measures such as protective clothing and masks and for the two-metre rule of social distancing to be observed at all times. But he’s wrong to question the need for the factory to keep operating.
He obviously doesn’t understand his work in processing is an essential link in the chain that starts in the paddock and finishes with export income that will be needed even more now that the country is headed into recession and spending billions on measures to reduce the damage that Covid-19, and the response to it, is inflicting on businesses, their owners and staff.
ExportNZ Executive Director Catherine Beard says supplying food is an essential activity, and all governments around the world – including New Zealand – are prioritising food production, importing and exporting.
“New Zealand is part of a global food supply chain which would be disrupted if we started putting restrictions on food exports,” Catherine Beard said.
“Food exports are going to help New Zealand weather this economic storm. 70-80% of goods exports are food-related and they are essential to our economy.
“Nor is there cause for concern about working conditions, as food manufacturing businesses are already highly regulated and sanitised environments.
“Employers will be taking extra care about working conditions to keep employees safe, in line with Government recommendations for safe working conditions in a Covid19 situation.
“Any employee with safety concerns should talk to their employer. Employers don’t want sick workers coming to work with even a cold. Employers will be highly vigilant around the safety of their workers as they don’t want to risk a shut down.”
People everywhere still need to eat.
New Zealand produces far more food than we can consume domestically.
Keeping the production chain going will reduce waste, enable growers to prepare for next season, keep people in work, keep businesses afloat and keep on earning the export income that will be needed to fund the economic and social recovery from Covid-19.