Government leaders gather to discuss RSE scheme

10 Jul 2017

Tuvalu PM Julian Raine Blog

Last week, New Zealand Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) employers, Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, and key Ministers and government officials from both New Zealand and the Pacific countries providing RSE workers to New Zealand, joined together at a conference on the RSE scheme’s 10th birthday. The consensus was that the RSE scheme has been successful for all involved, as well as for the communities in the Pacific and New Zealand. It is one of the few labour mobility schemes recognised by the World Bank and the International Labour Organisation as being successful on all accounts.

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, and the other representatives from the Pacific, made it very clear how valuable the RSE scheme is to the Pacific Islands. For example, workers from Samoa can, with just five months’ work in New Zealand as a RSE worker, earn more than three times the average annual wage in Samoa. The benefits to the families of the RSE workers, their communities, and villages have been significant, with building projects, education, and new skills learnt (building, out board motor repair, etc) in New Zealand during work downtime. These skills have been used to set up businesses in the Islands.

Not only has the RSE programme significantly benefited the Pacific, it has enabled the horticulture and viticulture industries to continue to grow in New Zealand. Today there are 135 RSE employers, and each employer has developed a strong relationship with their RSE workers over the past 10 years. This has been seen with employers contributing to the well-being of their workers’ villages. The scheme has also given RSE employers certainty to invest in the growth of their businesses; evidence of this is the growth of horticultural exports, up 40% over the past two years.

The Government’s trade agenda 2030 will enable further horticultural growth, a point strongly made by Trade Minister Todd McClay when he addressed the conference. This will in turn reinforce the importance of the RSE scheme as one of the labour supply options being used by the industries’ employers. Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, when she addressed the conference, noted that reducing unemployment was resulting in a smaller pool of New Zealanders being available for horticulture and other industries. This means the RSE scheme has an even more important role to undertake supporting continued growth. This will translate directly into more RSE workers being required for both the horticulture and viticulture industries.

The conference looked to the future, and how the RSE scheme can be improved. Areas identified where was an industry need to act include lifting employment standards across all employers (not just RSE employers who exceed minimum standards already) and making the scheme viable long term in the Island communities. Our focus in the coming weeks will be to achieve these refinements, ensuring that the scheme will continue and grow for another 10 years. 

- Mike Chapman, CEO