Pacific Island Labour programmes in New Zealand : an aid to Pacific Island development? : a critical lens on the Recognised Seasonal Employer policy : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
The New Zealand Recognised Employer (RSE) Policy was designed to remedy labour shortages in the horticulture/viticulture industry early in the twenty-first century. It was the first New Zealand contract labour migration programme to be designed with the explicit intent of the development of the source countries, consisting mainly of small Pacific Island States. This research sought to examine within a historical context whether the programme was beneficial to the source countries and communities, and whether the programme met the expectations of international labour conventions which New Zealand has signed. An attempt was made to discover whether, when compared with antecedent programmes in New Zealand and North America, the RSE represented a new paradigm in the design and implementation of a contract migrant labour programme.
The field work was carried out for twenty months between December 2011 and August 2013, involved a grower survey and over 100 semi-structured interviews with Government officials, horticulturalists, migrant workers, pastoral care workers, and other interested parties. Time in southern Vanuatu was divided between interviewing migrant RSE workers in Port Vila and visiting 100 village communities on Tanna Island. Assessments were made of access to the programme for the rural and urban poor and of the positive and negative impacts of the programme.
Positive features observed included the benefits of close government monitoring of worker accommodation, the transparency of the remuneration, the interest of many employers in assisting workers to remit funds to source communities, house building and infrastructural benefits gained by many workers, and the transfer of useful skills. Negative features included the powerlessness of the workers to negotiate their work conditions, the failure of some employers to address workers’ specific needs, the social dislocation of some workers leading to alcohol abuse, the frequency of work interruptions due particularly to weather conditions, the excessive work hours on some nightshifts at minimum wage, and a lack of connection between recruitment patterns and areas of greatest need.
The RSE policy has come about in an era of migration optimism. Since the mid-1990s the total global flow of remittances has exceeded the level of official development assistance. However most literature regarding remittance flows and transnational communities is set within a context of diaspora. The RSE was carefully designed to prevent overstaying of visa entitlements, in order to prevent any growth of diaspora. Consequently the overall financial flows in the case of Vanuatu are small compared to such sectors as tourism, and the position of the RSE in the migration-development nexus is somewhat contradictory.