Pressure on system affecting work visas

Helen Axby
Helen Axby
The measles epidemic in Samoa is affecting New Zealand’s primary sector in the wake of stricter screening regulations for seasonal workers.

Seasonal Solutions co-operative chief executive Helen Axby said pressure on the health systems in Samoa and across the Pacific Islands had contributed to ‘‘major delays’’ in getting workers through the system.

Ms Axby said it was not just the health systems in Samoa that were overloaded.

‘‘Every worker who wants to travel to New Zealand for the harvest season under the seasonal employer scheme needs a medical and a chest X-ray at minimum, and that applies across all 14 countries that we are recruiting from.’’

In the wake of the health crisis, Samoa has also introduced compulsory measles vaccinations for anybody leaving the country, while Immigration NZ has issued guidelines that all applicants from all registered scheme (RSE) countries be immunised.

‘‘That is largely for their own protection but has definitely slowed things down,’’ Ms Axby said.

Under the RSE ‘‘cap’’ the Government allows 14,400 workers to work in New Zealand for seven months during any 11-month period.

Immigration New Zealand general manager enablement Stephen Dunstan yesterday said immigration was ‘‘aware of the pressure on health services’’ and the effect it was having on health measures for visa applicants.

Last year, Samoa accounted for 1878 workers, or about 17% of the total under the scheme, while Vanuatans (4445) and Tongans (1899) made up a large percentage of fruit and wine workers, particularly through Central Otago, Canterbury and Marlborough.

Mr Dunstan said the number of Samoans had been expected to increase to about 2000 this season; only about 1000 had arrived to date.

Ms Axby said Seasonal Solutions had counted a total of 450 arrivals to the South Island so far.

Last year, 1500 RSE workers were employed across the co-operatives’ 64 South Island fruit and wine orchards.

‘‘We are hoping the trickle will become a flow as it got closer to cherry harvest season around Christmas,’’ she said.

The country’s two biggest meat companies have confirmed some Samoan workers have been sent home from their seasonal employment.

The red meat sector, which accounts for total employment of about 25,000 people, is already about 2000 workers shy during peak of season, according to Meat Industry Association figures.

Silver Fern Farms head of sustainability Justin Courtney said during the past month, the company’s site managers and HR staff had been in contact with staff who had family in Samoa to offer support to them and had

helped some staff to return home to support their families.

Alliance general manager, people and safety, Chris Selbie said the company had instigated checks at its plants for measles, although no localised cases had been confirmed to date.

Alliance has a total of 4500 seasonal employees and had applied for 100 staff under the Government’s Essential Skills category.

‘‘We have asked all our employees to follow Ministry of Health guidelines and encouraging vaccinations.’’

An existing travel app may provide a ready-made tool for Central Otago orchardists
desperate to find people to harvest their fruit.

Seasonal Solutions said yesterday it was working with travel app CamperMate to help find staff for this season’s cherry harvest.

Add a Comment


Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter