Seasonal Worker: Esther Shares Pandemic Experiences in NZ

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Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme worker, Esther Salanga who had just returned from seasonal work in New Zealand.

BY JOY OFASIA

MORE recently in New Zealand coronavirus cases have forced seasonal workers to take masks, social distancing, and other safety precautions seriously to prevent the COVID-19 transmission in their workplace, leaving them stressed to return home to their families back home.

“Things were a little different even though we worked normal hours during that time, we had to abide by very strict rules such as keeping two meters apart from work colleagues and other strong measures carried out by the company,” said Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme worker, Esther Salanga who had just returned from seasonal work in New Zealand.

As Solomon Islander, Esther in her 40s, who has a husband, three grown-up children, and two grandchildren in Honiara told Solomon women newspaper that for workers, a positive COVID test can have serious implications not just for their health, but for their finances.

“The COVID-19 pandemic not only caused a lot of fear but worries it could happen at any time. At work, I found social distancing and wearing a mask to work as a new experience in my life as a seasonal worker,” she expressed.

Many seasonal workers working under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme in New Zealand have worked and slept in close proximity spaces. They travel to work together and move around a lot to do fruit harvesting and packing, and they may have the potential to be infected and spread COVID unknowingly as they go.

Esther is an employee of Seeka Company. She regularly works at the Company’s fruit-packing line of work – packing kiwi fruits. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she had previously worked out in the orchards as a fruit picker, but then in March this year, she was transferred to the packhouse to do kiwi fruit packing.

Seeka Company is the largest producer of Kiwifruit in New Zealand and Australia. The Company also delivers the very best products to an ever-growing range of global consumers.

Esther’s goal to work abroad was to earn more money to help her husband in sustaining and improving the family’s standard of living in Honiara. She had been working in New Zealand’s horticulture sector as a seasonal worker since 2017, and this year was her 4th season in New Zealand.

Now that Esther has returned home, she is not quite sure if she will be able to go back to work in New Zealand due to the pandemic.

“Working in New Zealand, I have earned good money to send back to my family and also to assist with our newly completed permanent house project.

“I have three children and two grandchildren, and they are all living together. I supported them with school fees and all the other basic needs at home. The pandemic has affected my job just like any other seasonal worker around the globe,” she said.

Hundreds of Solomon Islands workers are currently in New Zealand on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme.

With the arrival of confirmed cases of COVID-19 at New Zealand’s border (23 active cases on 8 July), and a spike in cases in Australia, initial hopes of a Trans-Tasman bubble, and possibly a Pacific travel bubble, appear to have been put on hold, reducing the likelihood of commercial flight pathways for RSE workers to return home soon.

Major efforts are underway by MFAT, in conjunction with RSE employers and industry groups, to send Solomon Islands workers home.