CEO Comment January 2020
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Seasonal Solutions Cooperative Limited continues to help change the lives of our Pacific Island neighbours while meeting the worker needs of our region through its ongoing commitment to the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.
Seasonal Solutions has been part of the RSE pilot scheme since its inception by the government in 2007. The policy allows the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit overseas employees for seasonal work to meet the needs of local companies.
The cooperative initially supplied Otago growers with 45 workers from the Pacific Islands – fast forward 13 years and they now have more than 1400 RSE workers from Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.
Chief Executive Helen Axby has seen first-hand how the RSE scheme impacts its workers when they return home in the off-season.
“Earlier this year we attended the 2019 RSE Conference in Vanuatu, where a large portion of our workers come from. This gave us the opportunity to see how big of a difference these jobs make for families,” says Helen.
“We have seen workers put their money towards building cyclone-proof homes, starting up brick-making factories, and furthering their children’s education.
“We still have a handful of the original workers who started with us 13 years ago, which is a true testament to how these jobs have positively impacted lives.
“Recognising the importance of the RSE scheme in regards to labour mobility, is crucial in supporting further development in the Pacific – and is an important investment to these island communities,” she says.
Seasonal Solutions’ founding chairman, Basil Goodman, had a goal for the number of RSE workers employed to reach 1000, which was exceeded nearly two years ago. Basil will retire this year having achieved his goal, with Martin Anderson taking the helm.
Martin says the cooperative started because of a local survey that found labour was needed desperately in Central Otago to harvest stone fruit, apples and grapes.
“Seasonal Solutions started out by targeting backpackers. As grower support grew, the idea of a cooperative emerged, and in 2004 the company became the grower-owned cooperative that it is today,” he says.
“The cooperative originally placed 15 workers each in Cromwell, Alexandra and Roxburgh for the 2006/7 summer harvest. The World Bank contributed towards the workers’ travel costs for this pilot scheme.
“We had heard stories of fruit left to rot because there wasn’t anyone to pick it, and that’s where the idea came from. In the early days no one could have predicted the number of workers the scheme would grow to have, but now it is widely accepted that there’s a continual need for seasonal labour in New Zealand,” says Martin.
While Seasonal Solutions currently has a solid number of workers during the high season – 1000 Kiwis, 2000 backpackers and 600 RSE workers solely in Otago – the demand always outweighs the supply.
“We can always use more workers, and we are hopeful the Minister of Immigration will expand the number of visas available to our Pacific Islander neighbours,” says Helen.
“We are continuing to explore opportunities to recruit from other island countries as well, but we are also competing with Australia who have their own seasonal work programme.”
Helen is hoping to see additions made to the scheme in the coming years, as a government review is due to get underway.
“Being allowed to employ more RSE workers is a key priority of ours, to ensure we can continue providing work and training to Pacific Island communities, while ensuring our horticulture and viticulture industries continue to thrive and our local economy grows.”