Returning RSE workers an asset to NZ industries
Pacific Islanders participating in New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme say their experience working in this country is of great benefit to them and their communities back in the islands. They've become participants of great value in New Zealand's horticulture and viticulture industries where locals often aren't up for the work.
Pacific Islanders participating in New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme say their experience working in this country is of great benefit to them and their communities back in the islands.
Workers from Pacific Island countries are now considered indispensable to New Zealand's viticulture and horticulture industries.
Johnny Blades reports on a regional arrangement described firmly as a win-win for New Zealand and some of its Pacific neighbours.
There's around 9000 of them in the country this season: men and women from a range of island countries.
Around 4-thousand ni-Vanuatu. Two thousand from each of Samoa and Tonga.
There's almost 500 Solomon Islanders. The rest made up of people from Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea.
They're in New Zealand, doing hot, gruelling work, in regions like Nelson, Marlborough, Central Otago, the Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay. This season in the Bay, there's about 3 and a half thousand Pacific RSE workers
Nixon Asugeni is from Solomon Islands.
NIXON ASUGENI: "We have to work so that... we bring the money back home for our family. The things that we do back home, is building the family, especially building the houses, school fees for our kids, sending them to school, university sometimes."
Ananias William is a ni-Vanuatu.
ANANIAS WILLIAM: "Yeah, it's been good for me, helped my family and all my friends."
Tuuta Lavemai is from Tonga and has done five years of RSE work.
TUUTA LAVEMAI: "We have change from Tonga. We have no work in Tonga, no money, not enough jobs in Tonga. we have a lot of jobs in New Zealand, to make money. Really, really good."
They've become participants of great value in industries where New Zealanders often aren't up for the work.
Anthony Rarere is the general manager for Pick Hawke's Bay, a co-operative of 43 different orchards, which employs over 300 RSE workers.
ANTHONY RARERE: "These industries have struggled historically with maintaining adequate labour supply because it's always been seen as low-skilled work. It's definitely hard work - very physically demanding, getting up early no cold days, hot days, rainy days... so it's not very appealling."
The co-director of another RSE participant company, Jonathan Buck who manages Woodthorpe Terraces vineyards, also speaks of a strained labour supply.
JONATHAN BUCK: "This season has highlighted just how much we rely on them... Yeah if we had another four at least, I think, that would really help us out. We're just finding ourselves having to postpone jobs or get other people in at short notice to help catch up. So there's only so many of them around.Everyone wants them."
Far from home, for up to seven months at a time, the RSE people are apart from their family and friends, their home community, in order to earn money that will help them and their community back home.
Grape pruner Smith Isaiah from Vanuatu is in his third year here.
SMITH ISAIAH: "It's easier. Not like the first year when I was here, it's hard for me. But this year, three years now, it's much easier. So I took the money back to build a new home
start a new living, because the cyclone damaged all the houses, so I sent the money back to build a new home, start a new business."
Where possible, workers live and work in groups with others from their island or village. More experienced workers among them help keep the younger ones focussed.
Ilaisa Doraisavu came with the first group of workers from Fiji, last year.
ILAISA DORAISAVU: "We are lucky that all of the boys came from the same village. This is our second year and we are the first lot as well to be the returning group to come to work to New Zealand."
It's approaching a decade since the RSE scheme began. There were some teething problems such as occasional incidents related to workers' socialising and how they managed their earnings. But over the years, the system has become more efficient. Returning workers have adapted to life in New Zealand and the productivity has increased.
Andrew Genima'asua is a Solomon Islander who has been with the RSE scheme for several seasons.
ANDREW GENIMA'ASUA: "Sometimes when we get free we can go but if we get busy we cannot go to the church. We just keep working. I send my money to help my family and pay my kids' school fees."
They generally earn a minimum rate of $16:50 NZ dollars an hour. Most can also get paid additionally for higher output, meaning a worker can often earn over 200 dollars a day in peak season. Often, the RSE workers have a long term goal in mind when, according to Anthony Rarere.
ANTHONY RARERE: "There's a number of our orchards, 41 or 42 who have told me they wouldn't be in the industry if it weren't for RSE. They've had to struggle for so many years to find a consistent, reliable labour source, that it was getting unbearable. Then RSE came around in 2006, 2007, whenever it was... it was a game changer."
RSE workers like Ilaisa Doraisavu say people back home are increasingly interested in joining the fray:
ILAISA DORAISAVU: "When we went back last year, we've been telling them the stories, and they've seen what we're doing in the village. Most of the boys have been building houses, extending their houses, some start their small business. That's why most of the boys in the village will like to come and join the work that's being done in New Zealand."
It may be the best example of how New Zealand is helping the lives of Pacific Island communities. Above all it's a partnership. New Zealand is also very much better off for having the Pacific Islanders live and work here.
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