Vanuatu workers ‘treasured’
Ten years ago orchardists and wine growers were losing money fast as fruit was left to rot, due to a lack of seasonal workers.
Fast forward to 2016, and Seasonal Solutions Cooperative Ltd and the Vanuatu Government has that problem solved.
A gathering at The Packing Shed in Earnscleugh on Friday celebrated 10 years of the cooperative.
Coming to Central Otago for seven-month stints for the past 10 years under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme had been tough for Vanuatu man Peter Bumseng, but well worth it.
He was one of a handful left of the original 45 who came in the summer of 2006-07.
‘‘To me it’s a big privilege to come here,’’ Bumseng said.
‘‘It has [made] a big impact to our families, to our communities and to our nation as well.
‘‘I have seen New Zealand as just a next door neighbour. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your help.’’
Seasonal Solutions was set up to ease seasonal labour shortages in the Central Otago fruit and wine industries and now boasts a $24 million annual turnover benefiting both countries. Under the scheme, most of the money made by Vanuatu workers is sent home to help with schooling, building and infrastructure. Workers were earning $17 or $18 an hour, with the winter wage rising to $19.
Seasonal Solutions Cooperative Ltd chief executive officer Helen Axby said it was ‘‘absolutely critical’’ to have Vanuatu workers - now numbering about 1400 - come into Central Otago, Marlborough and South Canterbury.
‘‘I think most of our growers would be beside themselves if they thought they were going to lose this.’’
Cooperative chairman Basil Goodman paid tribute to the founders, especially Ministry of Social Development southern regional commissioner John Allen.
Allen said: ’’I regard the establishment of Seasonal Solutions as the biggest thing ... I have been a part of in the 16 years I have been regional commissioner.
‘‘A lot of work was done, a huge amount of innovation, and a lot of risk.’’
Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan was grateful for what the Vanuatu people had added to the community.
‘‘These are good people. These are people we really want to treasure in our community.’’