Horticulture industry and govt cooperate to get thousands of RSE workers home

23 Jun 2020

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The New Zealand Defence Force has begun taking more than 1000 Vanuatu nationals home. Photo: NZDF

The horticulture industry and the Government have cooperated to get thousands of Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers stranded in New Zealand due to Covid back to the Pacific. 

‘Summerfruit NZ, NZ Apples and Pears, NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated and HortNZ have worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Immigration New Zealand to find ways to get these workers home because currently, there are no commercial flights to Vanuatu,’ says Horticulture New Zealand Chief Executive Mike Chapman. 

‘Eight flights will take off over the next few days, repatriating up to 1000 stranded Vanuatu nationals.  Not being able to return home was incredibly hard, and we are thankful that these families are being reunited.

‘Vanuatu increased its quarantine capacity significantly over the past month, which has made this possible.’

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Vanuatu RSE workers getting temperature checks at the Christchurch Defense Force base. Repatriated RSE workers arriving safely in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photos: NZHC - Vanuatu.


Mike says community and industry efforts to look after the stranded RSE workers have been commendable. 

‘It has been heartening to see the generosity that communities have provided to RSEs to make their stay here more comfortable.  A good example of this is in the Teviot Valley, where residents donated winter clothing to Vanuatu RSEs.’

While here in New Zealand, Cyclone Harold devasted Vanuatu.  The horticulture industry has supported the Fruit of the Pacific Trust to help rebuild efforts on the ground. 

To return the generosity the RSE workers have experienced in New Zealand, there have also been several stories about RSE workers helping out in their host communities.

The RSE scheme is highly regarded internationally and enables the growth of horticulture, which in turn provides permanent jobs for New Zealanders.

Looking ahead, Mike says it is clear that RSE workers will continue to play an important role in horticulture’s ongoing growth. 

‘Despite increased availability of New Zealand workers, RSE workers are highly skilled and experienced and will be needed if horticulture is to lead New Zealand’s post-Covid recovery.’