Horticulture New Zealand says while it welcomes increased government support and flexibility for the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers who are still in New Zealand waiting for repatriation back to the Pacific, the decisions should have come a lot earlier, says HortNZ Chief Executive, Mike Chapman.
‘We really needed these government decisions three months ago. While local communities have rallied to support RSE workers, government’s delays have caused RSE workers and their employers unnecessary anxiety and cost.
‘Immigration New Zealand is now providing the RSE workers who are still in New Zealand with the flexibility to move around the country to take up other horticulture jobs as well as jobs in other industries. Today’s decisions also mean that the RSE workers who have been stranded here won’t have the extra time they have spent in the country count against them, when they return to New Zealand next season.
‘At the same time, RSE employers can now apply for in-kind assistance to help them provide the RSE workers still here with basic needs, such as food and accommodation, under the Government’s Assistance to Foreign Nationals Impacted by COVID-19 Programme.’
Mike says out of the approximately 9000 RSE workers still in New Zealand, 4000 are waiting to get home.
‘Summerfruit NZ, NZ Apples and Pears, NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated and HortNZ have worked in partnership with the Government to find ways to get these workers home safely and as quickly as possible. More than 1000 RSE workers have made it home thanks to these efforts, which continue.’
Mike says that while it is good that these workers are now going home, it is important that the RSE scheme continues as it supports both New Zealand and the Pacific nations.
‘Horticulture will contribute significantly to the post-Covid recovery, and the RSE scheme is a cornerstone of that recovery.
‘The scheme has operating for more than 10 years. It has ensured that the New Zealand horticulture industry has been able to grow and provide permanent employment for thousands of kiwis.
‘As horticulture spearheads New Zealand post-Covid recovery, skilled RSE workers in similar numbers to this year will be needed to complement the New Zealanders entering the horticulture industry for the first time.
‘At the same time, the RSE scheme is vital to the Pacific. The scheme enables these workers to earn money to support their families back home, set up businesses, and build storm proof houses, schools and community facilities.’
The New Zealand horticulture industry is now worth more than $6.39 billion a year and employs approximately 60,000 people.