Pacific Scoop

NZ seasonal labour scheme touted as success for Pacific

Pacific seasonal workers

Pacific seasonal workers in New Zealand ... key economic contribution. Photo: Cathnews

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Taberannang Korauaba

Celebrating the achievements of the recognised seasonal employment scheme may not be top of the agenda for news media – except for negative issues. But there are strong positives for the Pacific.

Examples of negative media reports have included linking the scheme to comments such as “people smuggling” abroad.

Yet there is evidence that more than 7000 Pacific people involved in the scheme have financially benefitted through “remittances”.

“The World Bank, among other things, has highlighted this achievement,” RSE National Manager Emily Fabling told a pre-Forum media workshop organised by the Pacific Islands News Association in Auckland today.

New Zealand employers have also successfully built up good relationships with the community without relying much on the “middleman” to do things for them.

“We left it for them to work on,” Fabling said.

As a result, New Zealand employers found their own ways to recruit workers in the region “recruiting through early contacts with family rugby,” she said.
The scheme, which was introduced by the Labour government in 2007, was a response to New Zealand’s need shortage of seasonable labour.

“But it also met the employment needs of these island countries,” Fabling said.

New Zealand employers decide where and who to recruit in the Pacific island countries, but the Labour Department visited these employers and the workers regularly as part of their audit programmes.

For the years 2009/2010, there were 6216 workers, 6821 in 2010 and 7091 for 2010 and this year, 6216 in 2009/2010 and 6821 in 2008/2009.

Some countries – such as Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu  – had their worker numbers increased remarkably this year.
This was a result of both the marketing by regional governments and growing understanding and friendship between New Zealand employers and the community.

The Pacific had a large community in Auckland and despite “unconfirmed reports” that some people have harboured overstayers, Fabling said they have been very supportive to RSE workers.

There are a total of 72 overstayers since RSE was introduced four years ago.

Fabling could not say how many from each island, but she said it was advisable for these workers to depart voluntarily rather than be deported.

Other achievements included a story of a Tuvaluan worker who made “lots of money; he was strong and outperformed the other workers in RSE”, she said.

Distance recruiting
It was hard to recruit people from countries that had no direct flights to New Zealand but despite this, employers continued to recruit workers from countries such as Kiribati and Tuvalu because they “like the workers”.

On the administrative side of the scheme, the Labour Department identified areas such as driving skills, learn about New Zealand work culture, and facilitating initiatives that help employers getting informed of the diverse community they employ.

Because the workers could not access “huge cash” to pay for airfare, the government worked out ways to help these workers get to New Zealand, where workers reimbursed half of the airfare.

“We provided them the resources to participate in development and it is not ‘people smuggling’,” said Fabling.

While the people in participating countries saw the scheme as an alternative way to participate in the economy, their government used the scheme politically.

Fabling said it was “morally” right for these countries to use it in their campaign platform for it may improve the image of the scheme to the islanders.

This job has been done in many island countries resulting in a large number of people tending to work in New Zealand on short term.

Response to labour need
She said while there was nothing wrong with any government using the scheme for its own political gain, it should be made clear that the scheme was a response to New Zealand’s labour need.

Delly Bagu a journalist from Media Niugini Limited in Papua New Guinea, the country with the largest population in the Pacific, was surprised to see that there was only six workers from PNG under this scheme.

Bagu said there was no agreement between New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Fabling said it was the employers who decided where and who to recruit. New Zealand may not enter into agreement with Papua New Guinea until there was a need to do so.

Adam Wolfenden, trade justice campaigner from the Pacific Network on Globalisation, the second speaker at the seminar, said he supported the idea for establishing the RSE based on what he termed “labour mobility”.

“How the scheme is implemented on the ground is something that I am not really sure about,” he said.

Taberannang Korauaba is a Masters in Communication Studies student at AUT University and editor of the Kiribati Independent.


  1. Wendy Lee, 7. September 2011, 10:59

    An interesting report but there is one error: the NZ government determines which Pacific countries can be part of the official seasonal employment scheme – not employers. So far PNG is not on the list of approved countries, but they are now included in a similar scheme which Australia has set up, following NZ’s lead.

  2. Brett Hughes, 25. October 2011, 14:57

    Hello.My name is Brett.i am a NewZealander living in Fiji.I have a Fijian Friend who would like to do seasonal work in nz can you please advice how to go about aplying.

    Regards Brett

  3. Tane, 26. October 2011, 17:11

    Fiji was the instigator of the scheme and was originally going to be part of the first lot of seasonal workers to come to NZ. That was until the military took over the elected govt.

    They are not on the list and will not be until a legitimate govt is in place.