Solomon Islanders can now apply to become national agents to recruit local seasonal workers for the New Zealand seasonal labour scheme.

The Labour Mobility Oversight Committee (LMOC) - the new body responsible for guiding implementation of government policy on labour mobility schemes met for the second time yesterday, and endorsed a selection process by which recruitment agents in Solomon Islands can now apply for a certificate to recruit on behalf of the RSE employers.

The RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) scheme, which allows workers from Pacific Island Countries such as Solomon Islands to work picking fruit in New Zealand for up to seven months, was launched in 2007.

So far, over 200 Solomon Islanders have participated, but until now the Solomon Islands Government has played no role in this process.

Speaking after the meeting, Heinz Vaekesa, Chairman of the LMOC, commented that "It has come to our attention that some unscrupulous individuals have taken advantage of members of the public who want to participate in the scheme.

"We felt it was time that the Government grants certificates which permit agencies to recruit - so that we can regulate the industry properly and protect ordinary Solomon Islanders."

In Solomon Islands, like in Vanuatu, recruitment under the scheme is done by private firms and not by the Government.

However, Government will only grant certificates to recruit to agencies that have been carefully selected.

In future, if anybody is concerned about the trustworthiness of a recruitment agent, they will be able to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, who will be able to inform them whether that agent is certified or not.

The RSE scheme is regulated by the New Zealand Government, who lay down strict rules about how workers are treated, including what workers can be asked to pay for.

Half of the return air fare to New Zealand must be paid by the worker, and the remaining half by the employer.

Recruitment agents are not allowed to charge workers a fee for their service. If an agent were to charge a fee, the New Zealand employer would risk losing its RSE status.

"I am delighted to announce that we are now ready to receive applications for a certificate to recruit from interested agencies," Mr Vaekesa said.

Application forms can be collected from the reception of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade.

The application process involves an interview and various background checks.

"It is very important that agents understand RSE regulations and what employers want," Mr Vaekesa added.

"They also have a responsibility to help to prepare workers to live abroad. It is up to the Government to make sure agents fulfill these responsibilities."