Pacific workers well cared for but worried about work

RSE workers in Napier.

Seasonal workers from the Pacific are bunking in emergency shelters after Cyclone Gabrielle tore through New Zealand’s North Island as they wait to hear if there’s still work available for them.

Alusio Kaloudau, a team leader of a Fijian Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) group, said they are staying in Flaxmere Community Centre in Hastings in Hawke’s Bay on the east coast.

During and after the storm the group of 21 workers were forced to move into three different shelters.

Kaloudau said his team was told to “just relax” by one of the RSE caretakers when they arrived at the first shelter.

“Those of us who are from Fiji we don’t relax, we just do whatever we need to, so we put all the tables aside for other people to come and stay, then we managed to cook some food,” he said.

Kaloudau said his group continued to help out at each of the shelters they went to.

The Hawke’s Bay Cook Islands Community Centre has also taken in more than 75 RSE workers from different Pacific countries.

However, the centre’s president Derek Teariki said he didn’t know how long they would be able to host the workers.

“The help out there is really good, the supplies are coming in, there are a lot of organisations and communities helping as well,” Teariki said.

“We just don’t know how long they are going to last at the Cook Islands Community Centre. We will look at it day by day.”

Tuatagaloa said there was “certainly fear” amongst the men as the water started to rise and he was thankful for their “good sense” to climb on the roof.

Since being rescued, Tuatagaloa said his team had been very well looked after.

“They have been overwhelmed with the generosity and the love and the care that that has been shown by their employers,” Tuatagaloa said.

“A lot of the boys didn’t even have suitcases, they had just a backpack when they went to New Zealand. But now they’ve got suitcases, they’ve got all the clothing they need, and they’ve been fed very, very well. And the accommodation they’ve been re-allocated to is great.”

Tuatagaloa said Samoa’s history with tropical cyclones would have prepared the workers for the weather event, even though they are a bit different.

“We know how to sleep in the sand and live on nothing for a day or two. Sure it’s inconvenient and stressful at times, but we’re a resilient people and that will have helped for sure.”

The cyclone caused damage to farms and closed off forestry blocks making some of the workers’ future uncertain.

However, Tuatagaloa said he had been assured by one of the employers, Johnny Appleseed, there was still work available.

“There is enough work for them cleaning up and there is some some crop to be harvested, so they don’t have to be sent back home, not just yet anyway.”

However, he said there was not enough work for those in Samoa hoping to arrive in Hawke’s Bay this month.

“It’s very sad because they were all looking forward to it.

“All the airfares are paid for and they’re ready to get on the plane. We got notice late last week, from our partners in New Zealand to say that sorry, there’s no point in bringing them up because there would not be any work for them.”

Tuatagaloa said the RSE workers planning to go to New Zealand may still be able to find work in Australia.

Solomon Islands New Zealand High Commissioner, Eliam Tangirongo, said the country had 200 RSE workers in Hawke’s Bay who are safe. But there was uncertainty over whether they would continue working.

“That is something that we are yet to receive a definite response on,” he said.

“There’s a possibility that they could be moved around to other farms, or other parts of New Zealand in the coming months.

“While some of them may be involved in the rebuilding and reconstruction phases.”

President of the Fiji Tairāwhiti Community, Iliesa Batisaresare, is in Te Poho o Rāwiri Marae in Gisborne helping the affected community.

Batisaresare said seasonal workers and people in the forestry industry were also uncertain if work was available. He said the visa conditions meant they could not work outside of their prescribed businesses. With forestry roads closed he wants to know if the Fijian community could work for other companies.