Vanuatu workers waiting for news of home

Rita Jocy
Rita Jocy
Vanuatuan workers in Central Otago are waiting for news from their home country in the wake of Cyclone Pam, but for now a support fund has been set up, an employment co-ordinator says.

It may be some time before communication is re-established with isolated islands in the storm-battered country. However, Vanuatuans in New Zealand on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme are helping each other and trying to keep busy, Seasonal Solutions chief executive Greg Watson says. The business, an orchardist and viticulturist-owned co-operative, provides members with workers under the RSE scheme, which means they can hire seasonal employees from the Pacific Islands.

There are about 440 Vanuatuan RSE workers in Central Otago and more than 650 in New Zealand.

Rita Jocy (51) is one of those workers, employed at the Hinton Orchard Packhouse in Alexandra and is a team leader there.

All she has heard from family in Port Vila, Vanuatu's capital, was a five-minute conversation on Saturday. Her six daughters still lived in Vanuatu.

''They told us Port Vila was not good at all. Everything is down, no water, no electricity.''

Another family member had lost everything, she said.

She, husband Harry (53) and their two sons working in Central Otago have not heard from family members on other islands.

''I think they are OK, I don't know. We don't know anything yet. It's not easy.''

She was looking forward to when she returned home in just over a week, when she would be able to see her family.

''I really want to tell people to stay strong. Be strong and think of family.''

Mr Watson said Seasonal Solutions had established a fund to allow its members to provide further financial support to the workers and their families. However, anyone could give to it.

He had made contact with Seasonal Solutions staff in Vanuatu by text message, but the company was focusing on aiding workers in Central Otago.

''We have always been mindful that Vanuatu could be at risk of an extreme event such as this. Therefore, we do have good support systems in place here in New Zealand.''

Seasonal Solutions was grateful for the support coming in from growers in the collective, he saidIt was giving its workers the option whether they work or not while they wait for further news.

''We are telling them that they may want to keep working simply for the fact that, at this point in time, work may provide them with some form of distraction. But that is totally up to them.''

Some workers had indicated they wished to return home.

However, with no flights at present and flights in the next few days likely to be aid flights, all they could do was ''sit tight and wait''.

Mr Watson said he had been fielding ''a lot'' of calls from people asking what they could do to help.

''If people see the guys around [could they] just say hello and offer their support. The [Vanuatuan workers] said that would be great.''

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