Vanuatu marks 10 years with RSE

Vanuatu is set to celebrate a decade of its citizens’ participation in New Zealand’s successful seasonal labour initiative called the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, which was established in 2006.

Under the scheme, employers in the horticulture and viticulture industry with RSE status bring temporary workers from outside New Zealand to work for up to seven months of the year.

Vanuatu was one of the earliest participants in the scheme starting off in April 2007. In the past decade, Vanuatu has sent 3500 workers to work in New Zealand under RSE.

Vanuatu’s Labour Department is working with local recruitment agents to ensure Vanuatu meets its target of at least 500 more workers to meet increased demand for farm labour in New Zealand.

Manuel Valdez, Pacific Trade & Invest (PT&I) NZ Head of Investment and Chief Operating Officer says, “PT&I were involved in the RSE scheme since the beginning of the scheme in 2007. We accompanied an early batch of prospective employers from New Zealand to meet with the Labour Department in Vanuatu and local recruiting agents and prospective workers.”

The RSE scheme has positively changed the lives of ni-Vanuatu living in rural settings in terms of improving their lives.

RSE workers have built new houses, bought public transports or boats and even assisted with community projects such as building churches and clinics.

By investing and redeploying their earnings when they return to their home countries, RSE workers help substantially raise their families’ and communities’ living standards.

 The scheme has proved popular with the Governments of several Pacific Island countries as well and its popularity has encouraged Australia to implement its own seasonal employment scheme.

Many of the employers from New Zealand have developed strong, abiding partnerships with their seasonal workers from Vanuatu.

Perhaps the best-known example of a thriving employer-employee relationship that has transformed into an entrepreneurial one is the joint venture between South Island-based company Vinepower directors Jono Bushell and Jason Kennard and ni-Vanuatu partner Seth Kaurua.

The JV has grown to be an exporter of organic virgin coconut oil and a growing range of products from Vanuatu into New Zealand.

The Kiwi partners of this first-of-its-kind joint venture were at hand to work with their ni-Vanuatu counterpart to rebuild the facility when it was badly hit as the Cyclone Pam ploughed its way across Tanna Island.

 “This is a classic case study of investment and trade development strategy. It started from humble beginnings of a PT&I-initiated investment mission to Vanuatu which then grew into a thriving joint venture,” Mr Valdez said.

Vanuatu’s Commissioner of Labour Lionel Kaluat has called on all agents to do the right thing and not spoil the spirit of the day by doing something silly to tarnish the reputation of the partnership between the two Governments. He says if a complaint comes to him that an agent is recruiting workers from a particular community or island or for political gain, automatically the agent is “going to lose his or her license.”

Mr Valdez has congratulated Mr Kaluat and the Labour Department as the tenth anniversary approaches. “It was quite a bumpy road in the beginning but because of perseverance and good leadership seemingly insurmountable challenges were dealt with to ensure the success of the scheme. We can see the fruits of our labour now.”


Photo: RNZI File photo (A man from Vanuatu works in a Hawke's Bay orchard under the RSE scheme.