Steep airfares hampering Solomons seasonal worker numbers

5:09 am on 3 April 2017
RSE worker offloads apples into a crate in a Hawke's Bay orchard.

RSE worker offloads apples into a crate in a Hawke's Bay orchard. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Steep airfares are a major impediment to Solomon Island workers wanting to take part in New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employers scheme.

The labour mobility scheme provides special work visas for Pacific Islanders to work in New Zealand's viticulture and horticulture industries.

This year there are more than 600 Solomon Islands RSE workers - the highest number since the scheme began in 2007.

By comparison however smaller Pacific nations such as Vanuatu, which has more than 4000 RSE workers, and Samoa and Tonga, which have about 2000 workers respectively, are doing way better.

The Solomon Islands foreign minister Milner Tozaka said this was partly due to a need for increased capacity within his ministry to facilitate RSE workers applications but also because there were no direct flights between Solomon Islands and New Zealand.

"Although they have expressed, the employers have expressed interest to increase our participation in the future. The biggest hindrance to recruiting more Solomon Islanders is in the airfare costs. To bring a [Ni-] Vanuatu here it only costs $NZ 900 but to bring our worker it costs $NZ 1500 plus other costs," he said.

Milner Tozaka also wants the New Zealand's RSE scheme to allow Solomon Islanders to work in areas apart from viticulture and horticulture.

Mr Tozaka, who was in New Zealand last week, asked for his country's workers to be involved in areas like construction, fisheries and hospitality.

Mr Tozaka praised the RSE scheme calling it his ministry's flagship arrangement and one which has improved the lives of many Solomon Islanders.

According to government statistics in the 2016 season alone RSE workers remitted almost $US3 million to Solomon Islands.

New Zealand and Solomon Islands will later this year sign a new Inter-Agency Understanding on the RSE scheme in New Zealand during its 10th anniversary celebrations.

Solomon Islands Minister for Foreign Affairs Milner Tozaka

Solomon Islands Minister for Foreign Affairs Milner Tozaka Photo: Supplied

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