Australia’s Pacific Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme (PSWPS) and New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme (RSE) have now become the main employers of Ni-Vanuatu and other Pacific nationals in attempts to address labour and workforce shortages in their rural agricultural industries whilst at the same time helping alleviate the shortage of employment opportunities in Pacific countries .
The New Zealand’s RSE Scheme is seeking to employ 8,000 labourers per year however a New Zealand Government Immigration website mentions the cap at 14,400. It is estimated that the demand for workers in horticulture and viticulture could be as high as 20,00 to 30,000.
The Australian PSWPS Scheme will probably be seeking to employ a higher number than this as it is estimated that the demand for seasonal workers for horticulture and viticulture industries is growing and could be tens of thousands in the coming years.
Whilst the Schemes are seen as helping the Pacific Islands workers by creating opportunities for employment in Australia and New Zealand and giving them access to wages which are very much higher than what would be available to them in their own countries, the Schemes are also crucial to farmers in both countries.
The benefits accruing to the Ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers is so significant that when recruiting drives are conducted, thousands turn up to see if they can participate. Ni-Vanuatu workers have made up significant number of the Pacific seasonal workers in both countries and have built up a good reputation.
Despite the benefits, the country is likely to face a shortage of experienced labour in local industries such as construction and local businesses as workers seek greener pastures.
For a country with a very high potential in agriculture, this could be a setback in later years especially with the Government’s efforts to push development in Agriculture.
The age limits for seasonal workers is normally expected to be between 18 years old and 40 years old and whilst this is understandable, it draws away from the country, a significant component of the country’s active labour resource pool which may have consequences in the future in the likelihood that the world will get past Covid and people will travel again when a sense of normalcy returns, and the country seeks to expand its commercial and industrial base and its Tourism industry .
However in the short term, these schemes are providing many Ni-Vanuatu with better income opportunities and many often come back with ideas which they have learned as seasonal workers which with right support can be applied to productive initiatives in country.
The revenue that they earn is brought back in country and much of it is spent on personal and community improvements.
It is important to take note that Vanuatu society is generally based on a family communal system and the benefits accruing to one person can have wider trickle down effects to the wider family and extended family which only goes to reinforce the importance of such schemes to Vanuatu at this time.
Those who go on these schemes enjoy much higher income and when they return to the country, they will always want to go back to earn better money because Vanuatu’s economy is such that it is unlikely that local businesses will be able to compete with the seasonal worker employers in New Zealand and Australia to afford to pay the better wages with the opportunity to travel.
Such is the long term dilemma that may be faced with schemes like this as Vanuatu’s population is not large and its knowledgeable labour base is not large so when several thousand willing knowledgeable workers move out of the domestic labour market to pursue better opportunities elsewhere, then there will be an impact.
Fortunately the country has an increasing educated and tertiary trained population however this needs to be nurtured and opportunities provided for the nation to be able to utilize and capitalize on the resources that it has.
Whatever the future brings, these seasonal workers schemes have provided much needed employment opportunities and act as a social pressure release valve for many unemployed and those who are now unemployed in this current time of global crises and for this the efforts of many including local agents, the Government and its Department of Labour and the authorities and farmers in Australia and New Zealand should be applauded and appreciated.