Pacific Island Labour Mobility

18 Jul 2019 Pacific Island Labour Mobility image

The Recognised Seasonal Employers (RSE) conference has been held in Vanuatu this week.  RSE is the name for the Pacific Island seasonal labour scheme where workers from the Pacific come down to New Zealand for six to seven months for harvest and pruning.  Once that work is done they return home to their families in the Pacific.  This is not immigration as the workers return home and may or may not come back in future seasons.

The RSE scheme has enabled the continued expansion of fruit, vegetable and wine grape growing in New Zealand.  It has also enabled people in the Pacific to earn money that they would otherwise not have earnt.  In the previous season, these Pacific workers earned more than $50 million. 

In addition to direct earnings, New Zealand employers and communities have supported Pacific communities in many ways, such as rebuilding houses after cyclones and supporting schools with buildings, teaching materials and facilities. 

During downtime in New Zealand, training programmes tailored to the needs of the Pacific workers are run and funded by the New Zealand Government.  The money earned and the skills learned in New Zealand have enabled the workers to support the education of their families, build sustainable houses and village facilities, and to set up businesses back in the Pacific. 

This is where the RSE scheme has the greatest impact on the lives of RSE workers, their families and villages.  It is not an understatement to say that the RSE scheme is life changing.

New Zealand’s RSE scheme has been acknowledged by the World Bank as one of the best labour mobility schemes in the world because of the positive impacts in the Pacific.  One of the RSE conference’s key focus points has been on how to support the Pacific communities at all times as well as while the workers are in New Zealand.

This has been a consistent theme for past RSE conferences as the scheme develops and continues to improve.  In the early days of the scheme, the focus was on the mechanics of making it work.  Now the focus is on how we can effectively partner with all participants and in effect, treat workers and employers as one family with shared goals. 

Pastoral care and upskilling the workers are key features of the New Zealand RSE scheme, and are the foundations of it success.  This, plus the vital fact that the workers come to New Zealand for six to seven months, return home and are anchored in their family lives in the Pacific.

The success of the RSE scheme has created interest from other countries and other industries in New Zealand.  Australia has created a similar scheme and opened up work opportunities for longer than six to seven months.  Canada and the United States are also interested in setting up similar schemes. 

Some of these schemes are for longer periods and do not have the strong focus on pastoral care, worker development, care for their families and honouring workers’ culture.  These are in many respects the key distinguishing features of the New Zealand RSE scheme.

As competition for Pacific workers increases, it is important that the New Zealand RSE scheme continues its focus on supporting and developing Pacific workers, their families and communities. 

The concept of family – that is, family being the New Zealand employer, the Pacific workers and their wider communities – is the key ingredient of our RSE scheme’s success. 

This extends much beyond the typical employer-worker relationship.  It is seen in the help given to Pacific workers with health issues, and given to their communities by New Zealand employers and communities. 

This is a family relationship of caring and support.  The RSE conference this year worked on how to create a better family and better support Pacific workers and their communities in the future.  These moves will ensure the New Zealand RSE scheme enables growth both in the Pacific and with growing here, back in New Zealand.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive