Samoa Observer APIA, Samoa (July 19, 2010) - Pacific islanders don’t really believe that money grows on trees in New Zealand – but they are well aware of the differences in opportunities and pay scales between their home countries and the Land of the Long Weekend.

It’s why so many have applied to work there under the Recognised Seasonal Employment program.

This allows Samoans and other islanders to work in New Zealand for limited periods at the same rates of pay that New Zealanders would receive for the same work.

It offers a valuable opportunity for Samoans to earn the kind money they couldn’t hope to earn at home. Much of that cash, of course, is sent to families here.

The work is mostly fruit picking. That’s because New Zealand’s fruit industry – one of the nation’ most important exporters – couldn’t find the labor pool it needed at certain times of the year. They need labor at harvest time but those jobs disappear when the harvest is in.

For many islanders – and for the New Zealand employers – the RSE program represents a great opportunity. It’s a win-win situation as they say. The farm and orchard owners get the labor they need for the period during which they need it and the islanders have a chance to earn the kind of pay they can only dream of at home.

It’s a wonderful program which should be retained.

But as a group of Kiwi trade unionists visiting Samoa point out on page one of your newspaper today, there can be problems.

The main one appears to be transparency. Island workers are not always told in specific terms what their take home (or perhaps send home) pay will be. Nor is it always clear what their terms and conditions will be.

There have been instances of workers being told they can expect to earn NZ$800 per week. But what is less than clear is that this is based on a 12-hour day over six days. Nor is it always made clear that they will not be paid when rain prevents them from working.

Most of the seasonal workers live in dormitory accommodation at or near their workplace – often remote properties where conditions cannot always be inspected and may leave much to be desired.

Workers are not always told how much of their promised pay will be deducted for board and lodging while working in New Zealand.

So there have been a few unpleasant surprises when the promised money somehow shrinks come pay day.

Part of the problem concerns the use of third-party contractors who hire the workers and then re-hire them out to the employers. They don’t do that out of the kindness of their hearts and as the Kiwi unionists have pointed out, workers are not always certain where they might end up.

Stories we hear from Samoans who have taken part in the program are generally positive – especially among those who have been hired directly by an employer. Loyal personal relationships have been established and a number of employers hope the same workers will return the following year.

Let’s hope the scheme will be retained and that Australia will re-examine its own program to allow more direct hiring of workers by individual employers.

However, some attention needs to be paid to the standard of living of those workers. Most live in decent if basic accommodation and are treated with dignity and respect – but as the visiting unionists point out, neither the unions nor the government have sufficient numbers of inspectors to ensure that.

Under such circumstances there will always be a minority of employers and agents who see seasonal island workers as cheap labor to be exploited.

And these are the people any review of the system should seek to exclude.

That said, the Recognised Seasonal Employment scheme is a great step forward for the islands and for New Zealand. For if we accept that international relations begin with personal relations at the citizen level, it has the potential to draw the island nations and New Zealand ever closer.

Let’s hope it will be maintained, expanded and improved.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment