Cook Islands Government Urged To Raise Wages To Attract Cook Islanders Back Home

President of Tourism Industry Council says Rarotonga is short at least 300 workers

By Richard Moore 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Oct. 11, 2016) – The Government must do more to attract Cook Islanders back home to work, according to the president of the CI Tourism Industry Council Sue Fletcher-Vea.

And she is calling for a rise in the minimum wage, which is currently $6.25 [US$4.47] an hour.

“I think the minimum wage is shocking. I feel it needs to go up considerably.

“It is a way to keep people here. It is about money, they know what they can earn in NZ and that’s a big part of the problem.

“The minimum wage should be about $7.50 [US$5.36]. People shouldn’t be paid any less, in fact they should be paid a lot more than that.  “I support a much higher rate. I think it’s a way to keep Cook Islands people here.”

Rarotonga is short of an estimated 300 skilled workers – particularly chefs and managers – and Fletcher-Vea says while it is not a new problem, something needs to be done about it.

“That’s where attracting back skilled Cook Islanders with experience in management is a really great opportunity for them.

“There are some really great jobs going for them and the wages – when compared to New Zealand - are not that far apart.

“There is not as big a gap as in other positions.”

She says the government should be promoting this country to Cook Islanders living overseas and trying to entice them home.

“We need to be marketing to these people. A lot of Cook Islanders living in NZ are probably third generation and don’t know what’s on offer here.

“It’s an amazing lifestyle.

“They think that it’s expensive to live here but, in actual fact, it’s a cheaper place to live.

“There could be some incentives. Most Cook Islanders who come back initially find it a little bit hard here financially with things like home loans and interest rates. “

And she says the cost of power and the internet is something returning workers will struggle with.

“Those are things the government can be working harder on.

For Cook Islanders coming back those costs are not so attractive for them.”

But, she says, by buying local produce and meat families can reduce living expenses.

Fletcher-Vea says she knows raising wages may push business costs up but “you are going to get more out of your people”.

“If they feel they are being fairly remunerated you’ll get more out of them. They’ll be more productive and they’ll be happier. You will attract people more skilled workers so it’s a no brainer for me.” Fletcher-Vea says there were skilled staff shortages in restaurants, particularly for chefs. 

“Chefs are very sought after.”

She says a number of employers have had to resort to bringing people in to fill vacancies and, obviously, there is concern about that. Housekeeping is another area where staff is always wanted.  “Housekeeping is not a job for everybody and it is a really important job. It’s a hard job too. In this heat …”

Apart from the wages she says it is also about how well people are treated.

“If you treat staff really well they will stay. If you have a problem with staff turnover then you need to look at who is owning and running the businesses - not at the staff.”

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