Report by Pacific Media Centre

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The recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme allows for workers from the Pacific Islands to work in New Zealand for harvesting seasons. Fruit industry leaders say the scheme has grown successfully since 2007, but now Pacific advocates want an expansion into other areas such as construction, reports Asia-Pacific Journalism.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Matthew Hutching

Vanuatu is hoping to send a further 1000 workers to New Zealand next year under the recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme, says Vanuatu Labour Commissioner Lionel Kaluat.

The announcement comes after this month’s Pip Fruit Industry conference in Wellington, where Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi followed up on comments from Apia’s PACER Plus negotiations by calling for the RSE scheme to allow in more Pacific Island workers.

Tuilaepa said Samoa hopes to send 2000 workers in 2016, up from 1200 last season.

The scheme allows for workers from the Pacific Islands to work in New Zealand for harvesting seasons. Fruit industry leaders say the scheme has grown in success since it began in 2007.

Pacific Island leaders, however, want an expansion of the scheme to allow RSE workers into other labour industry areas like construction.

Kaluat says Vanuatu can engage in the New Zealand tourism industry, fisheries, construction and aged care.

Vanuatu contributes the most people in the RSE scheme, with 3070 people in the 2013/14 financial year.

Sustained families
Kaluat says the economy boost it provides has been very beneficial for the nation, especially in the last few months since Cyclone Pam.

“It has sustained the workers families to be resilient in taking care of themselves after the cyclone.”

He says income from the scheme has also enabled many workers to build stronger homes to protect them from future storms.

However, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions is concerned the growth of the scheme is threatening to dominate more jobs in the labour industry.

Speaking on Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific, NZCTU economist Bill Rosenberg said the scheme was meant to accomplish two things: to provide work for people from the Pacific Islands, and to help develop more full time industry jobs for locals.

“Now on the first one it has been reasonably successful,” he said. “On the second one it has made no progress whatsoever and that is where our concerns lie.”

He said the RSE scheme does have an important development role for the Pacific Islands, but, “for it to be the dominant way of employing people in the industry really is not helpful for the development of the industry for New Zealand workers.”

Reliable labour
For Hawke’s Bay orchardists though, with a fast-growing apple industry the scheme is vital for reliable labour.

Puketapu orchardist and Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers Association president Lesley Wilson said they get RSE workers in every year and “we would not be orcharding without them”.

“It has been very successful. Having guaranteed labour come in each year and turn up every morning has allowed growers to focus on other parts of their business.

“We use the RSE scheme to supplement local and other overseas labour that comes in on working holiday schemes, so the use of RSE workers has helped us in planning for the future and developing our current crops.”

With the significant growth of the Hawke’s Bay apple industry, she said they will be asking for more RSE workers.

“The Hawke’s Bay Labour Governance Group is working with other organisations to have a look at future growth prospects and where our labour needs will be, so we’re going to get more defined figures and then we’ll be going back to the government and asking for more numbers.”

Initially it allowed 5000 workers per year into the country. This year’s allowance was closer to 9000 with about 8500 arriving in the last financial year, said Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse. He said it reflected the excellent season in particular for apples, kiwifruit, cherries and grapes.

Meeting needs
Speaking in July at Horticulture New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer conference in Samoa, Woodhouse said: “It is clear from the evidence that the RSE scheme is meeting the needs of New Zealand’s horticulture and viticulture growers and that participation in the scheme has resulted in a more stable and reliable workforce than in the past.

“It’s striking to note the high number of RSE workers returning to New Zealand each season, which shows how highly it is valued.”

The scheme is also a success for the Pacific Island nations involved.

Minister Woodhouse said research from Waikato University showed that the per capita income for Pacific households with RSE workers grew by almost 40 percent, “so there are significant flow-on effects for our Pacific neighbours”.

He said he was amazed at the contribution RSE workers made to their home environments, whether it was investing in new facilities or upgrading existing ones.

Matthew Hutching is a postgraduate student journalist in the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.

Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.