Pacific Islands seasonal workers who will be allowed into New Zealand under a new border exemption will finally be paid a living wage.

The New Zealand government has announced it is granting access through the border for 2000 workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employers scheme in the new year.

New conditions in place as part of the exemption include a standard living wage for the Pacific workers, and for employers to foot the quarantine costs.

This will include two weeks of salary for the workers in the horticulture and viticulture industries, sectors that are in dire need of workers for the upcoming harvesting season.

Usually, much of that work is taken up by Pacific Islands workers under the RSE scheme – in a normal year up to 14,500 workers come to the country to work, mainly from the Pacific but also from South-East Asia.

But Covid-19 has had a major impact, and border restrictions meant new RSE workers have not been able to enter the country, until now. Due to the restrictions, another 6000 workers have been stuck here since last season.

However, the government has recognised that there might still be a shortage, despite the extra 2000 workers.

Its announcement has been described as being about New Zealand’s obligations to the Pacific during this global pandemic. Yet the Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi stated that getting New Zealanders into work was a top priority.

“That has been a bit of a challenge, but that is why we are doing things to try and assist and get that over the line, for not just their growers, but also the people that might be able to pick the fruit for the harvest,” Faafoi said.

But the harvesting jobs entail gruelling physical work and low pay, which has turned many people off this kind of work.

It is not entirely clear then yet if this exemption and the living wage condition is about addressing those criticisms, or is merely a Covid-19 band-aid.

Minister Faafoi reiterated that RSE workers coming to NZ are very experienced, adding that it was important to make sure they get paid for that experience and productivity.

“As I say, we’ve certainly seen proposals from sectors and regions of New Zealand where they are quite willing to meet those kinds of conditions, to meet the challenge that they have with the labour supply at the moment.”


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