Cyclone Gabrielle: Vanuatu RSE workers ‘safe and cared for’, say officials

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Ni-Vanuatu RSE workers helping unload donations after Cyclone Gabrielle
Ni-Vanuatu RSE workers helping unload donations after Cyclone Gabrielle in New Zealand's Hawke's Bay region. Image: RSE/Vanuatu Daily Post

Vanuatu Daily Post

A number of ni-Vanuatu Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers have also been impacted on by New Zealand’s Cyclone Gabrielle devastation, particularly those in the Hawke’s Bay region.

This has been a difficult time for people in Aotearoa New Zealand, but also for families of workers back in Vanuatu trying to understand what is happening.

Labour Commissioner Murielle Meltenoven and the New Zealand High Commission in Port Vila have assured everyone that all RSE workers in New Zealand are accounted for and safe — and that their welfare is a priority for the Vanuatu and New Zealand governments.

New Zealand government authorities, RSE employers, Vanuatu’s liaison officer, NGOs, churches and communities are working together to support affected workers.

The Pasifika Medical Association, a group of trained Pasifika health workers, is on the ground in Hawke’s Bay providing free health services to affected RSE workers.

Where worker accommodation was impacted, RSE workers have been supported in emergency response locations, often community halls or churches, together with other RSE workers.

All ni-Vanuatu RSE workers have now been able to return to their farms or to other suitable, approved, accommodation.

Employer obligations remain
Despite a small number of RSE workers not being able to work, obligations on RSE employers to support RSE workers remain.

This includes paying workers a minimum of 30 hours work a week at NZ$22.10 an hour and providing pastoral care.

The work of some RSE farms will be impacted on by the cyclone’s damage. Workers are able to work on their farms assisting with clean-up if needed, others will be doing their normal harvest work.

New Zealand officials are working to provide flexibility to enable RSE workers who were due to travel to affected areas or that need to be relocated to other parts of New Zealand.

Workers can also choose to return to Vanuatu if they decide they want to return early. It is important for workers to understand that they have a choice in any changes.

The Labour Commissioner explained that the Department of Labour (DoL) is working closely with the New Zealand government to monitor mobilisation of RSE workers into affected regions and assess whether workers need redeploying to other regions.

“I appeal to licensed agents sending workers to affected regions to work in partnership with the Labour Department and ensure mobilisations only go ahead when there is confirmation that approved employers can ensure enough work and safe accommodation for RSE workers,” Commissioner Meltenoven said.

Working closely with NZ
She sympathised with all RSE workers in this difficult time and has assured them that her office will work closely with the New Zealand government in ensuring that their welfare is prioritised and looked after.

Vanuatu’s country liaison officer, Olivia Johnson, is on the ground supporting RSE workers.

She is visiting them at their accommodation and working with Immigration New Zealand and the Labour Inspectorate to ensure safe conditions for workers.

“The devastation is extensive, and we had some workers evacuated out of their accommodation to safety. All are accounted for, and all are safe and well,” Johnson said.

“Our workers who needed to be housed in evacuation centers have been incredibly well cared for — while I was visiting one group at the Ascende Church in Hastings one evening a school out of Wellington had driven up to supply donations.

“The community support to all RSE workers has been humbling. My heart now goes out to the employers, some of whom have lost everything — this is also hard on our workers as most are like family and just want to stay, help and rebuild.”

Tragic, difficult time
Speaking about the devastation of the last few weeks with 11 deaths from the cyclone, New Zealand High Commissioner Nicola Simmonds said this had been a tragic, difficult and anxious time for many New Zealanders and RSE workers.

“From here in Vanuatu, it is humbling to see the contribution that RSE workers are making to support New Zealand at this time,” she said.

“Ni-Vanuatu know more than most about the devastating consequences of cyclones. But they also know how to respond, rebuild and support each other during such times.

“Many workers have been a huge practical help, but also a source of resilience and inspiration for New Zealanders. I humbly thank those ni-Vanuatu supporting New Zealand at this time.”

Workers who have concerns about their situation can reach out to the Department of Labour and Employment Services to raise their concerns and get an update on the welfare support that RSE workers are accessing in the affected region.

Republished with permission.

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