NZ RSE scheme - The Way to Go
<strong>Pacific Trade & Invest</strong> Head of Investment Manuel Valdez has been involved with the Recognised Seasonal Employers (RSE) programme since it started in 2007 and observed its progress.<!--more-->
“RSE not only increases remittances to the Pacific Islands but also it provides work for people who had limited opportunities for employment in their home countries,” he said.
In 2013, Pacific Island seasonal workers sent an estimated NZ$80-90 million in remittances back to their home countries. Tonga alone, remitted about NZ$15 million, whilst Vanuatu RSE workers sent back a total of NZ$16 million.
One Ni-Vanuatu worker said he earned around NZ$600 per week on average. But when very productive, he earned as much as NZ$1,000 per week.
Up to 9000 mostly Pacific Island seasonal workers from Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are hired to work in New Zealand under the RSE scheme for 6-8 months, when there are not enough local workers.
Surveys in Tonga showed the majority of RSE workers were from rural areas, with lower than average incomes and education. The scheme helped workers learn new skills from time management to English language and leadership skills.
Budgeting was also a problem for workers. Many had no experience in managing their earnings and had guidance from their employers.
In 2007, PT&I seized the opportunity to offer Financial Literacy and Investment Opportunity Seminars to workers in the horticulture and viticulture industries. Seminars focussed on how to save and remit wisely and to invest their hard-earned cash in productive businesses on returning home.
Since then, numerous success stories show how RSE workers benefitted from their experiences in New Zealand. Some invested in peanut production, handicrafts, a shuttle bus, kava production, coffee plantation, virgin coconut oil, backpacker accommodation, aquaculture, small shops, mobile phone business and many others.
A Tongan Liaison officer also told of 4 RSE brothers from Vavau, after 4 years working in New Zealand orchards, invested in kava production for the local market and export to neighbouring islands.
“These livelihood programs in the small communities and villages helped improve the lives of the common and marginalized people in the small islands” said Mr Valdez.
For New Zealand, the RSE was a game changer.
Leigh Catley of Horticulture NZ said “The RSE programme is the single greatest improvement in the sector that Horticulture NZ has been involved in says “The good supply of workers for harvesting has allowed growers to increase production and expand their businesses - buying more land and planting more trees. This has meant they can hire more Kiwis to work in permanent roles, for example supervising the production line. It has also resulted in more employment opportunities in packing and freight - there have been very positive effects right through the supply-chain.”
Peter Conway of the New Zealand Council of Trade Union (NZCTU) said in 2010 when the NZCTU was consulted on the RSE policy, the programme was clearly a ‘yes’. Labour shortage was a serious threat to business viability in the viticulture and horticultural sectors.
“If the RSE hadn’t happened some growers would have gone out of business.”
The New Zealand Aid Programme is now providing funds to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise to work with Pacific administrations to strengthen their RSE-related systems and ensure the sustainability of their participation.