Vanuatiua
Students from Male School. Photo supplied by Martin Anderson

A wonderful opportunity to look into the lives of our Vanuatu workers, when they are at home with their whanau, is currently showing at the Cromwell Museum.

Martin Anderson, Chairperson of Seasonal Solutions, visited the islands of Efate, Ambrym and Malekula in 2016, and photographed the men who come to work in New Zealand as part of the Recognised Seasonal Employee Scheme (RSE). 

A selection of his photographs, on loan from Seasonal Solutions, now makes a fascinating display in the Cromwell Museum.

The Recognised Seasonal Employee Scheme grew out of a World Bank initiative in 2006, when an initial group of 50 men came to New Zealand for a 7 month trial period.

A precursor company to today’s Seasonal Solutions Cooperative Ltd was one of the initiators of the scheme.  Seasonal solutions at its peak (pre-pandemic) employed up to 1300 RSE staff, spread over Central Otago, South Canterbury and Marlborough.

The scheme has enabled RSE staff to earn sufficient income over the years to be able to build cyclone-proof houses, set up small businesses and contribute to the life of their village, pay school fees and support the life of their church.

Here in Central Otago, the men have also contributed to the life of our community, as well as becoming a vital part of our productivity.

Since the pandemic, life has not been easy for the men.  Their visas allow for up to 7 months work in New Zealand, but with closed borders both here and in Vanuatu, it has not been possible to repatriate men at the end of their stay, nor to bring in new RSE staff.

Some of the men have been in New Zealand for up to two years, making the normal operation of their family life difficult.

Martin Anderson says,

“A recent government announcement that the cap on how many RSE staff can come to New Zealand has been raised to 16,000 per annum is welcomed, and should help to reduce the acute shortages in our horticultural and viticultural industries.”

Martin adds, “The staff have contributed in a major way to the development of our local industries and we salute their contribution.”