Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 400 Solomon Islands seasonal workers have been repatriated from New Zealand.

Aziel Sale was one of the workers repatriated back to the country in July.

“During the lockdown in New Zealand we continued to work till the day we returned”, Aziel says.

Aziel first joined the seasonal worker scheme in 2019. She has worked for two seasons.

“I first went in the beginning of the year before coming back in the middle of the year. I then went back at the end of the year before returning in July this year”, Aziel explains.

In New Zealand, Aziel was in the packaging sector. She was employed by Darlings Fruit Company.

“It is just a small company. We were the ones responsible for packaging the apples that were sent to Bulk Shop”, Aziel says with a smile on her face.

“Working with Darlings Fruit was good”, she continues. She says employees are paid on a weekly basis thus each week; she was able to send money back to her parents and husband.

“Not a big sum of money, just NZ$100 weekly. At least it is enough to help them in their daily needs” she says.

Before being a seasonal worker, Aziel sews clothes. She learnt the skill of sewing by attending vocational sessions in both Tulagi and Honiara. She sews gowns and uniforms for students.

Upon her return to Tulagi, Aziel says she will be continuing with her sewing business.

“I just got out of quarantine a few weeks back. They took samples and ran COVID-19 tests from us and we are all clear”, she says.

COVID-19 has placed undue challenges and concerns particularly for workers caught up in the closure of borders. While Aziela was able to board the flight out of New Zealand, about 200 workers are still in New Zealand. Some have to stay on for a longer period of time.

Aziel says she hopes the government will look into the seasonal workers scheme as this has helped a lot of Solomon Islanders improve their lives.

“Not only in repatriation but also in assisting workers to continue to work in the scheme”, Aziela says.

It is understood that Under PACER PLUS, the labour mobility program in the region is still ongoing. New Zealand is still keeping its current cap of 14,400 workers for the 2020/2021 season.

The cap was set by the New Zealand government to enable RSE employers and workers to plan ahead as much as possible, and to maximise opportunities for New Zealanders.

The New Zealand government has recommended that pacific workers continue to work if they are able to.

Meanwhile Aziel says for now she decides it best she remain at home.

“I feel sorry for my husband too. We just got married last year and then I left for the seasonal worker scheme. I am still okay to work but for now, I think I will just park the idea of going back to New Zealand”, Aziela says.

New Zealand has since recorded more than 1700 cases of COVID-19.