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My conclusion – for now – RSE (recognised seasonal employer)

There are varying opinions as to the overall worth of  the current RSE scheme in New Zealand.   This recent article published from Australia  NZ RSE: time to think carefully about sending communities  may get you thinking.  Below is how I see the situation, as it is now.

apple tree

Positives for the orchardists / vineyard owners etc. –

  • Orchardists gain reliable staff who are keen to return year after year;  produce is harvested and processed on time rather than wasting away because local staff can’t be found.
  • Although initial training may be intense, once the returning workforce are in place, the continuity of staff is an asset for the business owners.
  • Compliant staff who are not likely to cause a mutiny.  My observation is that where a kiwi worker would likely address an employer about an employment issue, it is unlikely that a RSE worker would do so – perhaps it’s cultural or perhaps it’s a matter of staying quiet to ensure a contract is offered for the following year.  Life is not always fair.

Positives for the RSE worker  –

  • The chance of a source of income that would be out of the realms of possibility in their usual environment.  That income can provide opportunities for the wider family and communities back home  – education, better housing, transport etc.
  • A chance at repeated opportunities to return to the same orchard / vineyard so the work and environment isn’t new and difficult to adjust to.
  • New skills are developed to take home and use – this may not relate to the actual work learnt, but life skills and “western” ways of living.
  • Consumer opportunities – to experience a more western lifestyle and indulge in that lifestyle and returning home with goods that are not easily accessible.

Positives for the wider community in New Zealand

  • An insight into another culture.   Living and working amongst us kiwis, is an opportunity for friendships to develop.  My own observations have been that there are many churches in particular, forming strong links with the RSE workers.  This commences a cycle of kiwis visiting the islands and forging stronger links directly to the communities from where the RSE workers hail from.  Locals in my region have formed friendships and as a result of that friendship have chosen Vanuatu as a holiday destination.   Others kiwis who have visited Vanuatu in the past and have a heart connection to the islands have developed close friendships and supported in a pastoral-care way, those workers whilst they are working in New Zealand.
  • A richness is offered to those often semi-rural communities that host the workers.  An example of this is at the Motueka Market and I understand in Kerikeri too;  Ni-Vanuatu RSE workers have formed a string band for their own entertainment as a pastime, but have shared their musical talents with locals.  I believe that this has broken down barriers in rural communities – kiwis have enjoyed the music and as they say, music speaks where words cannot.
  • Increased revenue for various stores as the population increases in small rural towns across New Zealand.
Ni Vanuatu string band
RSE workers playing their island music at the Motueka Market were welcomed by kiwis.


Is there a down-side?

Within New Zealand I don’t see a down side per se.  Back in Vanuatu, I have to say there are definite and obvious sacrifices for individuals within families.   Mums and Dads are absent for anywhere from 3 to 7 months;  which can be a strain on many levels.  There is an increased workload on those back home, particularly those living a rural subsistence lifestyle.  Someone has to pick up the “slack”,   someone has to handle those difficult moments in life.

Those RSE workers in New Zealand have to accept that life will go on back home without them.   There are those who have suffered bereavements during their time in New Zealand and are not able to get on the plane and go home – rarely is that an option.  What I have seen is that the RSE community is tight-knit;  they become their own “family” and support one another at a very deep level.  A lesson for us kiwis to learn.

More opportunities to participate in relevant educational activities would be appreciated.  Having said that – when working 50 hours or more each week, there isn’t a great deal of “spare” time.

Having recently returned from Vanuatu, many ni-Vanuatu asked me how they can come to New Zealand for fruit picking.  They felt there was an inequity for those who are accepted in the scheme to return every year – some for 5 years or more.   Many of those that I spoke with, wanted the opportunity too.  I guess that is dependent on the selection Agents working on behalf of the New Zealand employers.  Employers will have a prescribed mandate and I can understand why those repeat workers are chosen, as consistency in the workforce will assist with maximising productivity.

A downside that I had not considered but was made aware of it on several occasions, is a move away from eating traditionally.  Those left behind on the island will likely experience sometimes, significant increased workloads and can therefore be too tired to prepare locals crops such as taro, yam or sweet potato and often will choose an easy option such as a tin of food (if they have the funds).   The RSE scheme is not the only reason there has been a shift away from eating traditionally, but it is an impact that ni-Vanuatu had commented on themselves.  Wanting to create a quick and easy dinner is certainly not unique to Vanuatu;   all over the western world, we do exactly that.

Overall, I think the scheme is a positive one.  Personally, I think that a shorter stay (3-4 months) is more beneficial for the RSE workers and those who are only here for 7 weeks, it simply is not viable for them, and understandably they return home with very few funds at all.  A 3-4 month period would allow more workers to sign up to the scheme and spread the savings potential back into more communities across the islands, with less impact on the long term absence of key family members.


It is time to Value-Add to the scheme so that the long term “aid” benefits can be felt across the islands that provide man-power in industries across New Zealand where we can’t provide our own resident workforce.  There are numerous Aid agencies working in Vanuatu who will have gathered data that could be utilised to enrich the existing scheme so rural communities prosper at a deeper level.  A more holistic approach could free up other “aid” funds to provide better infrastructure across Vanuatu in particular.

So is it a good thing or a bad thing?   I guess Ambata, who spoke to us recently about his RSE experiences, summed it up well  – “in life, there are always positives and negatives”.

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