The Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme is working well.
The scheme permits horticulturists and viticulturists to employ workers from Pacific Islands and a few parts of Asia, during the harvest.
This solves the problem of worker shortages for employers and gives work to people from poor countries to the benefit of both.
The World Bank report shows this is having a positive development role for the Pacific. Workers earn far more than they could at home and take most of their earnings back to save or use to pay for their children’s education or for consumer goods.
Recognised Seasonal Employer programme has indeed had largely positive development impacts. It has increased income and consumption of households, allowed households to purchase more durable goods, increased the subjective standard of living, and had additional benefits at the community level. It also increased child schooling in Tonga.
This should rank it among the most effective development policies evaluated to date. The policy was designed as a best practice example based on lessons elsewhere, and now should serve as a model for other countries to follow.
The DoL report found workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu got little if any benefit, although this was partly explained by the small number of workers from there.
But workers from Vanuatu, Tonga and Samoa benefited financially from the RSE policy.
The most frequent uses of savings by workers were to pay school fees and buy school uniforms; renovate or build new homes; purchase land and cattle; support other relatives; pay for family events; purchase vehicles, boats, equipment, and electronic goods; and repay bank and other loans.
Some workers used their savings to start or expand business ventures and other activities to generate income (for example, cattle farming, a taxi business, a store, and a vehicle-hire business).
While financial rewards were the most important benefit, workers also valued their newly acquired skills, especially time management skills, English language skills, and an improved work ethic. Some workers discussed how the skills they had learnt in the vineyard or orchard could be transferred to their farms at home or to business ventures they were considering. Return workers said they were better at managing and saving their money.
Not all workers were in New Zealand long enough to enable them to save sufficient after paying their airfares and living costs. There are also problems from the prolonged absence of parents and spouses.
The majority of RSE employers reported immediate benefits from the scheme including a reliable, enthusiastic and productive workforce, reduced recruitment and training costs, increased confidence to expand and invest, and reduced stress.
Employers identified factors that contributed to the productivity levels of RSE workers: Pacific workers coped well with the physically demanding manual work involved in harvesting crops in very hot, cold, or windy conditions; and were more willing to work long hours, weekends, and night shifts than New Zealand workers.
A consistent theme that emerged from employer interviews was the improved quality of produce due to having skilled workers to pick and pack crops while they were in optimum condition. Other results were improvements to the supply chain as a result of a reliable workforce, and improved performance of New Zealand workers due to the demonstration effects of RSE workers.
The report concludes the policy has achieved what it set out to do.
Employers in the horticulture and viticulture industries have access to a reliable and stable seasonal workforce. The labour supply crises of previous years have been avoided and employers can now plan and manage their businesses with confidence.
As the policy enters its third year, there are indications many employers are now also benefiting from skilled labour as workers return for subsequent seasons. Significant productivity gains were reported in the second season, together with improvements in harvest quality.
Alongside the employer ‘wins’, Pacific workers and three Pacific states have benefited financially from participating in the RSE Policy. Skill development has also been identified as a positive outcome for workers.
Aid usually means taking money or skills to other countries. The RSE scheme allows people from the Pacific to come here where they help our horticulturists and viticulturists and in doing so help themselves.