News Item

Pacific Voice Special: A Samoan Perspective

Media 30 Jul 2021

How has the reduction in RSE numbers seriously affected the local communities in Samoa?

Very seriously because our quotas to NZ under RSE have been greatly reduced and furthermore, only those with previous RSE experience will be considered. No new recruits are allowed thus reducing our ‘pool’ through ’natural attrition’, i.e. retirement, penalty for misdemeanours, family obligations, other employment opportunities, migration under the Quota Scheme, etc.

Given Samoa does not have COVID, do you feel the NZ Govt could be taking more RSE workers?

NZ could safely take many more Samoans because anyone from here would be COVID FREE!

The people of Samoa are resilient and have also been through serious climate change challenges, what concern do you have for the people of Samoa in this current COVID environment?

We are a resilient people BUT for how much longer? The RSE scheme, even with the reduced numbers is of some help BUT how much better off we would have been if the previous numbers were maintained! It would have been a WIN WIN WIN for all concerned. The NZ Farmers would have fully harvested their crops – a WIN for them and ultimately the NZ economy – a WIN for the Seasonal Workers and ultimately the Samoan economy – a WIN for our families living in NZ who would have been relieved of the need to send money home for assistance. We are slowly coming to terms with Climate Change and having to re-adjust our ways of doing things to cope better. In the short term, it has been the restrictions around COVID that have been devastating.

Do you have advice on how the RSE scheme in New Zealand could be improved? There have been reports by unions in New Zealand they are not paid enough and there are reports of exploitation. What are your thoughts about this?

There is a ‘palagi saying ‘that ‘beggars can’t be choosers. There is no denying the important fact that the benefits to Samoa of the RSE Scheme are enormous and that is at the current Rates and Terms that the NZ Unions are critical about. Could this be why NZers don’t want to be Fruit Harvesters - people are under-paid and exploited according to the Unions?! Nobody should be exploited and in the 14 or so years our Trust has been involved with Johnny Appleseed/Yummy Fruit and Mr. Apple, we have never felt ‘exploited’ in any way. We have been most grateful that each year we have been invited to NZ to harvest their crops under very cordial and satisfactory terms. As Christians, let God be theirs and our Judge!

Local Growers in NZ are crying out for more RSE workers and there have been many stories of fruit rotting on the grown worth millions of dollars of waste to the New Zealand economy, but the New Zealand Government has said that growers should be encouraging more unemployed kiwis to do the work and that we shouldn’t be just relying on RSE workers. Do you have any thoughts on this?

We only got our Independence from NZ in 1962 and therefore our economy is far less developed on many ‘fronts’. Nor can one begin to compare our circumstances and what has prompted certain things to happen. Your Social Welfare System for instance is an ‘amazingly generous’ scheme that supports those who are unemployed. Harvesting apples is not an easy task – it’s tedious, boring, heavy and ‘back-breaking’ and am wondering if this is not the real reason why the ‘dole’ is the preferred choice to the average un-employed NZer. If this is the case then the benefits to the NZ economy of the RSE Scheme and allowing the required number of say 10,000 Pacific Islanders to harvest your crops, would more than cover the cost of keeping the equivalent number on the Dole!

If the RSE numbers don’t rise, what do you think the alternative is for people in Samoa who previously were RSE workers, especially with the tourism industry greatly affected also?

Many of our RSE members are Planters and there are huge challenges around that. Mid to Long-term Crops and Livestock initiatives are costly and labour-intensive. Mechanisation is also costly and therefore very few developments on a ‘commercial scale’ are pursued for sustainability. Consequently, small ‘cash crops’ for quick return are pursued but plagued by ‘feast or famine’ situations – markets (both export and local) get flooded and is followed by a lull in planting and then shortages follow - this is never enough to build a home, develop a sustainable business venture or ensure the best possible education ones your children – a promise that RSE can surely deliver!

* Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale is in charge of the Poutasi Development Trust RSE Scheme based in Samoa and through his efforts, the village of Poutasi has benefited greatly from the NZ RSE Scheme

(Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale at Sinalei Reef Resort (Photo: Pacific Scoop - Alex Perrottet/PMC).