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Recognised Seasonal Employer  programme - a fruitful partnership

Every harvest when the apples and kiwifruit are ripe for the picking, Nelson requires up to 5000 extra pairs of hands. When jobs can’t be filled by New Zealanders or through Ministry of Social Development (MSD) Work & Income, then the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme steps in to help local businesses recruit temporary workers from eligible Pacific countries. Collaboration between more than eight government agencies enables this to happen.

Recognised Seasonal Employer is a highly successful policy which has helped provide seasonal labour for New Zealand’s horticulture and viticulture industries in 15 regions since 2007. RSE allows horticulture and viticulture businesses to supplement their workforce with non-New Zealanders when labour demand exceeds available supply of New Zealanders.

Spearheaded by Immigration NZ, now part of the Ministry of Innovation, Business and Employment (MBIE), RSE provides up to 10% of the peak seasonal workforce ensuring a reliable, sustainable supply of labour. At peak harvest time in Nelson it is expected that just over 1,000 employees will be RSE workers. Other high demand regions are Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty and Marlborough. 

Just over 110 employers currently participate in RSE, with over 20 based in Nelson. To gain RSE status they have to go through a stringent vetting process and comply with employment relations and immigration policies and laws. Approval to recruit RSE workers is always subject to the availability of New Zealand workers. 

Nelson RSE employer Vailima Orchards recruits 80 workers mainly from Tonga and Samoa each season to pick their apples. Many of them return, year after year. Owners Richard and Sue Hoddy believe reliability is the reason for the RSE programme’s success.

“We see RSE as an opportunity to ensure continuity of labour supply,” says Richard Hoddy. “Without RSE we wouldn’t have that security. We wouldn’t know week to week or season to season if we could find the workers we need.  Now we get to use the same people who are already trained and understand the business and work better than someone coming in off the street.”

With a secure labour supply Vailima has increased its production by around 33%. However, the benefits flow two-ways.

Vailima Orchard has a strong focus on training and pastoral care. “There’s a lot for the workers to learn – like not wearing gumboots on ladders and getting on in teams,” says Richard. “It’s not just about picking apples. Our RSE workers are like family and the skills they learn here they take back home.” 

The Hoddy’s investment in their workers’ welfare reflects their long-standing relationship with the village of Vailima in Samoa where the orchard’s founder and Richard’s grandfather, Walter Hoddy, spent time in hospital while serving in Samoa in World War 1.

Not only does RSE contribute to New Zealand’s export earnings and boost regional economies, it is a vital link in our aid programme. RSE has received funding assistance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to provide technical and capacity building assistance to Pacific countries participating in the RSE scheme.

Immigration NZ RSE Regional Relationship Manager Pip Jamieson says it’s much more than a seasonal labour stop gap. “This is about great working relationships between the public and private sector,” says Pip. “RSE employers develop good working relationships with MSD Work & Income and, with access to a steady labour stream at peak times, gain confidence to invest in their business long-term. The Police, Inland Revenue, migrant centres and community groups all have a part to play in settling in RSE workers.  In turn, RSE workers and their Pacific island communities benefit from a steady income and new skills. It’s a very fruitful partnership.” Read more about the RSE scheme

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