Wine industry personnel involved with Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) workers believe there is a double whammy benefit from the scheme. Not only does it allow workers to send money home to alleviate subsistent lifestyles, it also enriches the communities where the workers are based.
Helen Axby, CEO of Seasonal Solutions says in the small town of Roxburgh in Central Otago, the locals were so impressed by the RSE workers that they wanted to use a community grant to provide better support for them.
“These workers really are a part of that little community,” Axby says, “a substantial part of that community. They are absolutely critical to the success of the local community and they are recognised as such.”
She says the sheer courage it takes for the workers to leave their homes and families and travel to New Zealand to work is something that is not often thought about.
“How brave these guys were in the early days of RSE to literally walk out of their tiny little villages set in bush and rainforest and make their way to Vila and fly to New Zealand.”
Their determination to work hard to ensure they earn good money to send home is legendary in New Zealand wine circles. James Dicey viticulturist and owner of Grape Vision in Central Otago says analysis between the productivity of backpackers versus RSE workers showed that over the seven month window the Vanuatuans were in the region, they achieved a two to one productivity.
“We also tend to find the Ni Vans have a higher quality focus and keep it up consistently.”
That has added to the quality and reputation of Central Otago wines he states.
“That’s because the quality of the viticulture has improved.”
“As any grape grower will tell you, you muck up your pruning and you are in real trouble,” Axby adds. “These workers are critical to getting that job done.”
As for what the workers can do to improve the lives of their families at home, Dicey says they have a clear vision.
“Their focus is on education, health care, housing and then business. It pretty much runs in that sequence.”
One unexpected bonus he says, is the workers have developed a cultural change in attitude to look at matters with a longer-term perspective.
“I have two workers from Vanuatu who are about to come back for their 12th year. They helped me plant the vines here that first year and they have grown to understand that it took a full six years before they saw or harvested an economic or mature crop.
“Whereas on the island if they don’t get a return on their garden or farm within three months, they are not prepared to invest in labour or seeds to do that. So that cultural change has made a big difference in how they now look at things back home.”
What is deemed as extremely important to the workers and the employers is that no governmental agency at home is taking a slice of the worker’s income and Dicey says the decision on how those wages will be spent is entirely up to the individual worker.