More Pacific workers in NZ?

VERNON SMALL IN SAMOA
Last updated 14:01 03/06/2014

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The Government is moving to increase the number of Pacific workers who can come into the country under the recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme.

Prime Minister John Key said a small increase was on the cards, partly driven by the likely return of Fiji to the scheme if it went ahead with democratic elections.

His comments followed a traditional Ava ceremony at Poutasi village where he was made a matai or chief after his visit to the tsunami-hit village after the devastation there in 2009.

During the ceremony one of the senior villagers thanked him and New Zealand for allowing its workers to come to New Zealand for temporary seasonal jobs.

But he also called on Key to lift the number of places available.

New Zealand currently allows in 8000 seasonal workers, mostly employed in horticulture and on vineyards, from around the Pacific. About 1100 come from Samoa.

Key said about a quarter of the people of the remote Poutasi had been to New Zealand under the RSE scheme.

"In broad terms the workers bring back about $5000 as a result of the work they do in New Zealand. You can imagine how significant that is because realistically there is not a lot of other paid employment in the area," he said.

New Zealand employers also spoke highly of RSE scheme workers.

Key said an increase was possible and there were also calls from employers to increase the quota to about 10,000.

Cabinet's was view that it wanted to be sure every effort had been made to recruit local workers first.

But the sector was growing.

Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse had been asked to do more work on a possible increase.

FIJI COULD RE-ENTER SCHEME

If Fiji held democratic elections it would come back into the scheme.

"Without some minor increase that would require a reduction in everybody's numbers to accommodate Fiji and we probably wouldn't want to take that step, so there may be a small increase."

His comments came as debate about Labour's plans to curb immigration when numbers soared continued after Key raised it after talks with his Samoan counterpart who warned Labour it would harm New Zealand.

Key said under his government net immigration numbers had averaged about 9000 and the settings were about right. He said Labour was "dog-whistling" a message to opponents of migration while reassuring its supporters they would not be affected but cutting back on the family reunions category, signalled by Labour, would affect the island nations.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said Labour's policy did not affect the Pacific Islands.

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"For John Key to mention it here as opposed to at home is the wrong thing to do. We're here to develop a relationship between New Zealand and the Pacific Islands." 

- Stuff

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