Solomon Islands Government sent a delegation of officials to meet with employers and government officials in New Zealand to discuss ways to enable more workers from Solomon Islands to work in New Zealand picking fruit in future.Under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, the New Zealand government has enabled employers to recruit workers from any Pacific Island Country for a period of up to seven months each year.
So far, the scheme has concentrated on the five 'Kick-Start Countries' - Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu - whose governments have signed agreements directly with New Zealand in order to support the growth of the scheme.
Even though Solomon Islands was not included amongst these countries, 238 workers from Solomon Islands had already worked in New Zealand by June of this year. Many workers are able to earn over SB$30,000 during seven months of work.
Representing the Solomon Islands Government were Commissioner of Labour Josiah Manehia, Honorary Consul to New Zealand Doreen Kuper, Senior Trade Officer Barrett Salato and Trade Policy Analyst Dan Hetherington.
They met with staff from 'Mr Apple', the largest apple-picking company in New Zealand, who employed 700 workers from the Pacific last year, including around 30 from Solomon Islands.
Alistair Jamieson, Mr Apple's Labour Manager indicated that the firm was hoping to recruit even more Solomon Islanders in the next twelve months - possibly as many as 70, if recruitment went well.
Officials later met with representatives of the New Zealand Department of Labour, and Foreign Affairs and Trade, to discuss what Solomon Islands Government could do to assist with the recruitment process and to prepare workers for the different environment and type of work in New Zealand. Officials also discussed allegations of fraud involving so called local recruitment agents.
"The Government has an important role in protecting workers by ensuring that agents are genuine. In light of our discussions in New Zealand, we brief New Zealand officials of the recruitment mechanism that is being put together by the government. This recruitment mechanism will enable government to select and monitor the activities of agents. We urge the public to be very careful before handing over money to any agent claiming to be able to arrange work in New Zealand. If anybody has doubts, we would encourage them to contact the Department of External Trade in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," said Senior Trade Official Mr. Salato.
New Zealand companies emphasised that the RSE Scheme is not an aid programme, but a commercial venture to fill gaps in the New Zealand labour market. Whilst they hope that it will have a range of development benefits, they are seeking to select workers based on the value that they can offer to the company.
"We have to respect the needs of companies that are seeking workers," Mr. Salato added. "If Solomon Islands can't supply what they need, then they will turn to other Pacific Island Countries that can - after all, employers need to make profit."