An RSE worker in a Hawke’s Bay orchard. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Vanuatu’s Department of Labour (DoL) has revealed that they receive weekly complaints from the families of seasonal workers, particularly partners who request that their spouses be placed on the DoL’s blacklist for engaging in extramarital affairs.

This year alone, the total number of Vanuatu workers blacklisted overseas has risen to 174, including seasonal workers from both Australia and New Zealand.

Senior Labour Mobility Officer of Policy, Welfare and Compliance, Minnie Bani, reminds all seasonal workers that their overseas journey is intended for family purposes and not for personal endeavors.

“Even if you are single, it’s your father and mother who sent you, not for you to go and disengage from the program,” Mrs. Bani stressed.

“The family journey is the primary reason, and the family also includes children. Most of them have seemingly forgotten their children, and they do not know the pressure on the children when there is a conflict in the relationship.”

She confirmed the DoL has encountered numerous spouses coming forward with their children in tears, seeking assistance with issues they have with their husbands.

However, they expressed their limitations, stating they are not licensed counsellors.

She further stated that the Department has introduced an initiative known as the “Community of Care Model,” created by the Australian Government for Vanuatu seasonal workers.

This model involves team leaders, employers, and country liaison officers to assist the workers.

They also aim to establish a referral pathway, similar to what the Department of Women is doing, to finalise the protocol of a safety net.

“In cases of gender-based violence or traumatised children needing counseling, the Department of Labour acts as a vital point of contact. They guide individuals on where to seek counselling,” Mrs. Bani stated.

The Senior Labour Mobility Officer mentioned that another goal of the DoL is to provide an actual counselling service. They have identified ADRA Vanuatu’s “Blossom Project,” which focuses on family life education covering topics such as reproductive health, incest, and domestic violence, as a potential resource.

According to the Department of Pacific Affairs, reasons for blacklisting can vary, including alcohol abuse, property damage, personality differences, and power struggles between workers and their employers or supervisors. Some cases involve supervisors using power dynamics to threaten workers, leading to blacklisting.

However, Mrs. Bani said the most common reason for blacklisting Vanuatu workers is alcohol consumption, which result in fighting, car accidents, and other alcohol-related behaviors.

The Department of Pacific Affairs clarifies that blacklisting serves as a punitive measure against workers who violate program rules or exhibit inappropriate behavior. While some cases are justified, there are instances where workers are blacklisted without clear evidence of wrongdoing.

The Department of Pacific Affairs further reported the issue of blacklisting affects employers and labour sending units as well.

When workers are blacklisted from one program, they may attempt to enter another.

“There is a trend of long-term workers being blacklisted, raising questions about whether complacency, multiple visits, or other factors contribute to this issue. It is important to understand and address the underlying reasons behind blacklisting,” the Department of Pacific Affairs reported.

The DoL adds that since the scheme’s primary goal is to help individuals economically, a worker placed on Australia’s blacklist may have the opportunity to migrate to New Zealand.

However, they may be subject to a two-to five-year stand-down period first.