It is hard to find a downside to the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme.
In its latest research, the World Bank labelled it a “triple-win,” benefiting New Zealand, seasonal workers and Pacific communities.
Through the RSE, workers from the Pacific (and some impoverished parts of Asia) are recruited into New Zealand’s horticulture and viticulture industries to perform seasonal work, like harvesting fruit.
A Labour Department Research published last year confirmed the benefits accrued by the Scheme, including increasing productivity and the quality of harvests.
This World Bank research showed that the RSE was also playing a key role in development in the Pacific.
When RSE workers come to New Zealand, they are offered an opportunity to earn more money than they could in their home countries.
According to the World Bank, this extra income had a significant developmental impact in Vanuatu and Tonga, two of the poorest countries in the region.
When workers return home, they use the money earned here to deposit in a savings account, improve their homes, purchase consumer goods or educate their children.
The money earned through the RSE scheme immediately increases the financial wellbeing of the workers and their families. It also perpetuates developmental impact of the initial earnings.
We often think about our developmental assistance in terms of the money we spend on our own aid projects and programmes.
But the principles of best practice in international development tell us that sustainable development must be guided by the needs and desires of people in developing countries.
The RSE scheme allows people from parts of the Pacific to leverage our markets and industries towards achieving their developmental goals. We should be proud that the Scheme is effective and empowering.
New Zealanders first
The principle of New Zealanders first in the RSE Policy helps to ensure that access to seasonal employment opportunities are protected for New Zealand workers.
The Policy includes three mechanisms: 1. Employers must lodge their seasonal work vacancies with Work and Income before submitting an ‘Agreement to Recruit’ (ATR) form 2. Work and Income applies labour market tests to ATRs and 3. The number of RSE workers is capped at 8000 per year.
Immediately before the start of the policy, employers reported varying degrees of difficulty in meeting their labour needs using New Zealand workers and working holidaymakers.
When employers were recruiting for the second season, the effects of the recession were not yet apparent in the RSE regions.
However, by the 2008-2009 season, more New Zealand workers were available.
In the Bay of Plenty, an estimated 1000 additional New Zealanders were employed in the kiwifruit industry.
Employers reported availability of a higher calibre of New Zealand worker was available – these were people who were more likely to have a work history and positive work ethic than was previously the case.
Despite the increased availability of New Zealand workers, employers reported some misalignment between jobseekers and available work.
For example, New Zealand workers were less willing or less able to do the heavy manual work involved in harvesting crops such as apples or to work night shifts and weekends.
During the first season, one instance of the likely displacement of New Zealand workers was reported in the Bay of Plenty.
The displacement of New Zealand workers did not appear to have been an issue in the second season despite more New Zealand workers being available.
This was achieved by improved workforce planning by employers and enhanced processes for labour market forecasting at regional levels.