RSE scheme celebrates 10 years

05 Jul 2017


I remember when there was no Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme and the severe problems horticulture had getting labour at harvest time. It was not easy to find workers who would turn up each day and who wanted to progressively develop their skills. So as an industry – apples, kiwifruit, other horticulture and wine grapes – we got together and asked the Government to develop a scheme to provide reliable seasonal labour. This resulted in the development of the RSE scheme 10 years ago, and what a fantastic success it has been.

We needed a great labour scheme to ensure we could get premium pricing in our overseas’ markets, based on a quality offering that only comes from skilled and timely labour available for pruning, picking, packing and the processing of our crops. This is also the formula for continued growth of our industries. So to meet the shortfall in labour at peak times the RSE scheme was established in 2006. The three key principles of RSE are:


1 - High employment standards: RSE employers must be able to demonstrate and continue to demonstrate that their employment and pastoral care practices are of a high quality for them to be permitted to access and to remain in the scheme. This is monitored by a programme of independent audits.

2 - New Zealanders first: RSE employers must employ local workers first and must be active with programmes focused on New Zealand workers both for seasonal and permanent employment. If RSE employers are unable to find New Zealanders suitable for the work, then RSE workers can be employed.

3 - Pacific preference:  RSE employers should employ RSE workers from the Pacific (unless they had prior to 2006 an established relationship with workers from outside the Pacific). As a result, over 80% of RSE workers come from eight Pacific countries - Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea.


RSE workers may only stay in New Zealand for up to seven months each year, depending on the availability of work, although they may return in subsequent years. Workers from the more distant islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu can stay for up to nine months. A significant proportion of RSE workers have come to New Zealand multiple times. Employers value the increased productivity associated with returning workers, and indicate that the existence of this reliable labour supply has been a significant factor supporting increased investment in the horticulture industry, in turn underpinning increased job opportunities, both seasonal and permanent, for New Zealanders. This is because packhouses for example, can operate 24 / 7 supplementing the local workforce with RSE workers to manage the demands of multiple shifts.

The RSE scheme is run as a very successful partnership between Government and industry with regional groups feeding into a national policy group.

One of the main successes has been the difference the scheme has made in the Pacific through not only wages being taken home by workers, but also through training conducted in New Zealand transferring skills such as out-board motor repairs and house building / repair. Another big success factor has been RSE employers and New Zealand communities offering support back in the Pacific Islands, for example, rebuilding villages destroyed by cyclones. 

This is simply a fantastic scheme that sees everyone involved in it being a winner: the workers, the Pacific islands and New Zealand employers and communities.


Mike Chapman, CEO