The effects of COVID-19 on ni-Vanuatu workers in New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme : a research report presented in partial fulfilment of requirements for the degree of Master of International Development at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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On March 11, 2020, the United Nations World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 virus a global pandemic, initiating widespread government-imposed restrictions affecting peoples’ mobility, social engagement and livelihoods (United Nations, 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted global structural inequalities and recognised the importance of migrant workers in their contributions to the global economy (International Labour Organisation, 2021). This context has placed increased recognition on the temporary migration policies that facilitate mobility and their evolution over time (International Labour Organisation, 2021). For temporary workers, participation under these policies had placed restrictions on their already limited social integration and has had an undeniable restrain on their labour rights (Rosewarne, 2010). Temporary workers are often not eligible to access the social and economic safety nets provided to national residents, which has exacerbated their vulnerability from the impacts of the pandemic (Mukumbang, 2021). This study aims to explore how ni-Vanuatu participants in the New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme have exercised agency during the pandemic. This research has focused on workers in Te Puke, New Zealand. The exploration of their lived experiences is harnessed through a qualitative approach and methods that have facilitated discussion in semi-structured interviews along with personal observations and reflections. The research findings demonstrate RSE scheme stakeholders consisting of RSE employers, local community organisations and respective national governments have made concerted efforts at the initial stages of the pandemic to engage RSE participants and provide the means to sustain themselves. However, as the pandemic had continued, ni-Vanuatu workers shifted their focus towards personal responsibility to supporting themselves and helping other workers. This research shows that even in the most restrictive environments, ni-Vanuatu RSE scheme participants as individuals are conscious and capable of making decisions for themselves. Contributions of this research could be reflected in the design and implementation of the RSE scheme post-pandemic to allow participants to define their needs and promote a better understanding of their experiences.
Research report for 131897