The 8th NZ-RSE Employer’s Conference was held in Apia from 9-11 July 2015 – the first time the annual meeting has been hosted outside of New Zealand.
Opening the conference with a well-received address, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi – who had extended the hosting invitation to the RSE Employers at last year’s Conference in Wellington – reminded participants of the importance of the RSE Scheme.
“How important is the Scheme to Pacific countries, more specifically Samoa?
I believe the evidences will speak for themselves and there is no doubt the success of the RSE policy has and will continue to provide a solid foundation for continuous development of a strong and productive relationship between the labour receiving countries and their respective horticultural industries, and the Pacific island sending countries and Government agencies.”
The Prime Minister also spoke of Samoa’s experiences with the RSE Scheme.
“With this Conference taking place in Samoa, this will provide you and the New Zealand Government the opportunity to view tangible examples of how our seasonal workers utilize their hard-earned income, to improve their lives and their communities through improved infrastructure such as schools and church facilities.
“From Samoa’s perspective, the Scheme is an answer to the ills of labour shortage for your industries, while at the same time enabling Pacific workers to enter, work and earn in New Zealand.”
New Zealand’s Minister of Immigration, Michael Woodhouse, also addressed the conference and touched on the financial gains of the workers as a result of the employment programme.
“Forty to forty-five million from RSE Workers have made it back home to the islands.
“Other Important developments in the last year include an increase from 8000 to 9000 for the cap on workers as well as the landmark inclusion of Fiji following democratic elections.
“The invaluable role by countries such as Samoa to the continued success of the employment programme is important to note,” hed said.
Mr Woodhouse also noted that there are greater numbers of workers returning to New Zealand each season, and highlighted an Employers Survey that showed almost all RSE Employers believed that the benefits of the Scheme far outweighed the costs.
The NZ-RSE Employers Conference, attended by close to 200 participants, was held at the TATTE Convention Centre at Sogi, with the programme including a special day dedicated to visiting rural communities in Aleipata, Falealili, Lefaga and communities in Savaii.
Falealili and Lefaga families benefit from RSE scheme
The fruits of the Recognised Seasonal Employer’s scheme have benefited many families in Samoa since the scheme’s inception in 2007.
This was witnessed when participants of the RSE Conference 2015 visited selected villages in Upolu and Savaii last Friday (10 July). Delegates were divided into four groups that visited Falealili and Lefaga; Aleipata; Tafua tai and Saleaula.
The workers in the scheme have built new brick houses, upgraded sanitation facilities, purchased vehicles, built cattle farms, opened shops and raised the standards of living for their families.
Aneterea Letuvaa of Poutasi Falealili has travelled four times to work in New Zealand under the scheme at Johnny Appleseed farm.
He earns about $16,000.00 per season and has bought a taxi, upgraded his family home and provides for his wife and two young children.
“I will continue to work under the RSE scheme and am very thankful to the Governments of Samoa and New Zealand for this opportunity,” said Mr Letuvaa.
Another returnee worker at Poutasi, Sio Tumanuvao is currently building a new brick house for his parents and has already bought a taxi and a pickup truck from his earnings.
His family lost their home in the 2009 tsunami and they are building a new one from the $30,000.00 he said he and his two brothers earned through RSE.
“The three of us worked and saved our money to build a new house for our parents,” said Mr Tumanuvao.
“We will go again in the next season and will hopefully earn more money to support our families.”
The young man said he is thankful to NZ growers and the Government of Samoa for this great opportunity.
Yet another worker from Poutasi, Samuelu Lata told the RSE Employers that he has purchased a second-hand car with his earnings and will start a diving business when he returns after the next season.
Pualelei Fui, who now runs a brick-making company said RSE earnings had enabled him to buy a car and start a brick business which now employs many young men of his family.
Johnny Appleseed Company
Operations Manager for the Johnny Appleseed Company in Hawkes Bay, Afioga Toosavili Len Thompson said it was a beneficial move for his company to recruit workers from the Pacific.
He said they recruit 100 workers from Samoa per season – 85 of whom are from Poutasi and the rest from Savaii.
“Currently we recruit the majority of our workers from the Falealili district. In 2017 we have to have more (workers) because of the new planting that will come into production so we definitely will hire more people. We will be budgeting to recruit about 150 workers per season,” said Toosavili.
“We recruit groups from villages and that is the system that is best for us.”
Toosavili said its not to say that family groups will not work, but they have their own system.
Mr Thompson was bestowed the title Toosavili in honour of his commitment to the village of Poutasi. He said he wants to see more awareness and education for potential recruits and their families and villages of how RSE works for the employers and also the benefits for the Pacific Islands.
Another employer from New Zealand, Mr Craig Wilson, owner of Meiros Orchard Ltd said he was humbled and emotional when he saw how RSE workers from his farm spent their earnings.
Mr Wilson owns a 100-acre apple farm in Napier and employs 23 workers from Samoa per seven-month season.
These workers are mainly from Safaatoa Lefaga.
“They (workers) have bought vehicles, built houses, cattle farms and raised their standard of living, and I feel humbled to see what they’ve done with the money they’ve earned,” said Mr Wilson.
He said there were challenges in the beginning before he became familiar with the Samoan culture and how the people work. He said good leadership is needed and the role is suitable for someone who is respected by the workers.
About the scheme, Mr Wilson said from experience, Samoa runs its end of the scheme smoothly and very efficiently.
“I’m happy to continue recruiting Samoan workers,” he said.
“I’ve got a strong relationship with the villages I recruit workers from and hopefully my business will expand because of the work by these boys.”
Mr Wilson said he only recruits workers from Safaatoa at the moment with the intention to expand in the future.
Some Safaatoa, Lefaga family members were happy to reveal that the RSE scheme changed their lives for the better.
Fiauivaa Vise and his wife Sa are now living in a three bedroom brick house and own three vehicles and a cattle farm that their two sons have provided from RSE earnings over six seasons. Fiauivaa is proud to proclaim that their home cost over $60,000.00.
“This scheme has lifted the standard of living for my family,” he said.
“Our village used to look down on us for being poor because we had no stable income, but now RSE has helped develop our family.
“I want to thank the Government of Samoa and the New Zealand companies for providing this opportunity for us.”
The leader for the Safaatoa RSE workers, Joe Faavale said his group started going for work in New Zealand in 2007.
“Our group now comprises of 23 workers and we started with only two,” said Joe.
“We opened a taxi stand project this year when we came back with vehicles bought from our earnings.
“All the taxis belong to members of our group.”
Mr Faavale, who has already built two houses from RSE earnings said he earns over $10,000.00 per season and his group is ready for the next season in November.
Another family in Safaatoa also showed appreciation to the scheme for providing them with a new family home, a mini-van and a cattle farm.
Fiauivaa Folasa said his son had gone for work under RSE for four seasons and his only advice to workers from Samoa is to save well and spend wisely.