Scramble for vineyard jobs in wake of cyclone

People in Vanuatu are desperate to find work in Marlborough following the devastation left by Cyclone Pam, a Blenheim vineyard contractor says.

Vinepower co-director Jono Bushell has been in the island nation since before the storm, and said he had been hounded by people asking him to find them work.

Many of the ni-Vanuatu vineyard workers who were in Blenheim at the time of the cyclone returned home to see their families after it hit on March 14.

Speaking from Vanuatu on Thursday, Bushell said he warned the workers still in Marlborough not to return, despite knowing they wanted to check on their families.

"[Their] families need the money [more] but it got the better of them. Now they have come back they're probably wishing they hadn't," he said.

Bushell could not take more than 100 workers under the recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme, he said. "I would bring 150 [workers] if I could but it doesn't work that way."

Vinepower was expecting about 100 RSE workers in early May.

People were desperate for work so they could rebuild homes and businesses which had been destroyed in the storm, Bushell said. Others had managed to rebuild, particularly in Port Vila, the capital, but were struggling without tourists visiting.

A cruise ship had come into port on Wednesday carrying aid supplies, but its passengers did not get off the boat, he said. "It was just gridlock down there, everyone thought 'great the tourists are here', all the buses and taxis were there but the tourists weren't allowed off the boat."

Bushell said many tourist activities were back up and running, as were bars and cafes.

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"I guess the biggest issue, the ongoing issue is a lack of tourists - people have lost houses, have lost roofs and they need to be buying materials [to rebuild]," he said.

"At this point there's a huge reliance on RSE workers bringing money in."

He urged people to check in with their accommodation providers before cancelling travel plans to the nation, as many had been unaffected, or had been rebuilt.

The scale of the rebuild so far had been massive, and the amount of aid pouring in had been phenomenal, Bushell said.

"If you were to go through the main street of Port Vila now you wouldn't know anything had happened."

Bushell's own coconut oil plantation was "munted" during the cyclone, which ripped the factory off its foundations, leaving just a concrete slab. The factory was found 50 metres away from the Tanna Island site. "It's a ball of metal, completely destroyed, we got all our equipment but the factory itself is gone," he said.

 - The Marlborough Express

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