Advocates assist Central Otago's Pacific workers

Ensuring the Central Otago's Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme Pacific Island workers are looked after while they are in Central Otago are Juliet Pye, of Alexandra (left), and Seasonal Solutions's chief executive Helen Axby. Mrs Pye is one of six
Ensuring the Central Otago's Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme Pacific Island workers are looked after while they are in Central Otago are Juliet Pye, of Alexandra (left), and Seasonal Solutions's chief executive Helen Axby. Mrs Pye is one of six worker advocates in the region. Photo: Yvonne O'Hara
After four years as a volunteer in Vanuatu, Juliet Pye can speak the islands' language, Bislama, and that makes her an ideal advocate for the Central Otago region's Pacific Islander seasonal workers.

She works under the umbrella of Seasonal Solutions, which oversees the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) horticultural scheme for horticulture and viticulture workers for Central Otago.

She is one of six in the region - two in each of Cromwell, Alexandra and Roxburgh - who work with Seasonal Solutions.

Mrs Pye has been in the position for about three months, and works with fellow advocate Heather Pringle.

Mrs Pye is also the regional co-ordinator for the Vakameasina worker training programme, which provides 20 hours of free tuition to new arrivals on topics such as budgeting, sexual health, nutrition and human rights.

The programme is funded under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the New Zealand Aid programme for seasonal horticultural workers from nine countries.

Her role as worker advocate means she looks after the workers, who are from Vanuatu and other Pacific islands, and who work in the region.

''Growers who employ overseas workers under the RSE scheme have an obligation of care, but sometimes other things are needed,'' Mrs Pye said.

Seasonal Solutions chief executive Helen Axby said that the advocates' roles started from the minute they met workers off the plane.

The advocates take workers to their accommodation, settle them in, answer questions and make them are aware of any relevant accommodation rules or requirements.

''We also talk to them about how to look after themselves, and health and safety on the orchards,'' Mrs Pye said.

''Most are excited to come and, if they have been here before, are glad to come back.''

Mrs Axby said the advocates also provided confidential help with any medical and dental appointments, queries or complaints about their boss or pay rates, homesickness, or family issues at home.

The workers are here for about seven months to earn money to support families back home, buy tools, pay for schooling or build a home.

Mrs Axby said the workers tended to become an important part of the community they were staying in.

''Some have come back for 10 or 12 years, and some are now coming back with their sons.

''What is really important is to recognise how valuable they are to the community.

''We have been surprised to find the growers care as much as they do about them, and that is really impressive.

''I have also been surprised how many growers and supervisors have been to the islands where they live to visit them,'' she said.

Mrs Pye said looking after the workers was rewarding, and as she was able to speak Bislama, that made communication so much easier.

-About 11,100 workers were brought in from the Pacific Islands in 2017 by more than 150 RSE employers, compared to 5000 workers when the scheme was first established in 2007.

 

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