Ni-Vanuatu people are quite familiar with the Regional Seasonal Employers Workers Scheme. The initiative was introduced to New Zealand in 2007, followed by the launch of Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme in Australia in 2008.
In 2015 Vanuatu sent 2,500 workers to work in New Zealand while Australia recruited 900 workers. Next year it is looking into increasing its numbers to at least 2,000 workers.
After spending most of the lives in Vanuatu, many of the workers return home with a fresh perspective after experiencing life in a different country. The majority will put most of their savings back into the community. Whether it’s paying for school fees, vehicles, housing materials or farming tools, the significant income generated from the scheme has assisted in supporting families back in Vanuatu.
In this piece, a Ni-Vanuatu worker who has travelled to New Zealand twice for apple picking shares his experience about the benefits and challenges of the scheme.
Many of my friends and family were engaging in the Regional Seasonal Employers Workers Scheme. Their stories of travel and a rewarding income had me very curious. I started searching for possible agents and preparing the necessary travel documents, such as my passport. After many tiring days of preparing vital documents, I was ready to leave for New Zealand.
I had a few expectations of New Zealand due to the many stories I’ve heard. I expected a cold climate (I couldn’t wait to see snow) and looked forward to a nice fat bulk of money upon my return. With these expectations in mind, I set off very determined and positive to New Zealand.
First impressions are really important as they can either boost your confidence or lower it. My first impressions of New Zealand and my work place were very overwhelming. The climate was way colder than I had imagined. I longed for Vanuatu within just a few minutes of landing there.
The vegetation in the natural environment was very different from Vanuatu too. I had never seen most of the trees and flowers before. Massive buildings erected in the capital city of Auckland were many times bigger than the ones in Port Vila. Port Vila seemed so tiny.
All the workers were different races
The one thing I noticed was that there were many different races of people living together. There were white New Zealanders, Polynesians, Micronesians, a few Melanesians, native New Zealanders-Maoris (who were mostly covered in artistic tattoos) and a few other races too.
The farm I worked in was bigger than the farms in Vanuatu and there were many other Pacific Islander workers, namely the wantoks from Solomon and Papua New Guinea and the Polynesians. Our similar dialects (Bislama & Pidgin) had the other Pacific Islanders very impressed with our easy conversing.
The type of food available in super markets was different too. Luckily for us, Indian shops had familiar foods, especially canned fish or ‘tin fish’. Employers were kind but also very strict and demanded complete professionalism.
My biggest challenge was the cold weather and punctuality
After settling down at the farm, there were few things I had to get used to. The freezing climate was challenging but I overcame that by wearing huge jumpers and doing daily morning exercises.
Another crucial thing I needed to adjust to was punctuality. There was no more ‘black man time’ for the relaxed Ni-Vans. Apples had to be picked at a very fast pace but needed to be of the best quality. Errors must be minimized as much as possible.
Overall, each worker must try to make a minimum of $170 (minimum wage in New Zealand) in a day or more. Pay is allocated according to how much you have picked. Basically that means working hard and fast but doing the best to achieve the minimum. Achieving below the minimum wage is not beneficial to both parties.
The RSE Scheme taught me a lot
In my personal view of the job, the enthusiasm of learning new things and adjusting to new work ethics made it interesting at first. Later on it became a bit boring as you keep repeating the same work every day. It was hard work but the expected financial reward made it worthwhile.
It was a pleasant experience to learn new things (thinning, picking apples) at the farm and strict work schedules helped me remove the ‘black man time’ mentality. I also learnt how to be committed to the tasks given to me and tried to achieve it to my fullest potential.
The challenges encountered there were mostly to do with settling in. It was hard getting used to the cold climate, working towards a minimum income level every day and the ‘black man time’ mentality was difficult to lose as well. Apart from that, everything was good.
The only solution in overcoming the challenges was to focus strongly on my goal, which was to earn enough money to carry out my projects and improve my family’s livelihood. I also beared in mind that I had to present a good working report to enlighten the reputation of the Ni-Vans so that they can employ many more Ni-Vans. We must not only think of ourselves but of our nation as a whole.
I encourage my fellow Ni-Vans to try the RSE scheme
Although I faced some challenges, it was rewarding. I received a good income, I made friends and I would strongly encourage more Ni-Vans to try it. It is helpful for everyone in need of finance to carry out personal projects and try improving our living standards. It is also a good opportunity to experience life in another country.
My final advice for those intending to go there is to have a goal in mind. You must work towards that goal and stay determined to achieve it. We must not allow the challenges put us down but rather we must adjust ourselves to adapt so that we can be successful.
Pride and laziness must not be in our way and we must also build a good reputation for our beloved Vanuatu. In conclusion, my expectations were fulfilled and I returned a tired but happy man!
By Joanita Meltebury