Oxfam New Zealand welcomes the New Zealand government's announcement today to open up more opportunities for Pacific workers seeking seasonal work in New Zealand. The seasonal labour scheme will not only contribute to the New Zealand economy, especially in important sectors such as horticulture, but also create real benefits for the workers, their families and the economies of our Pacific neighbours.
Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand said: "It's particularly welcome that the scheme will address some of the potential problems with temporary work programmes that have been identified from New Zealand's past experience and other seasonal worker schemes."
Under the scheme that begins in 2007, New Zealand employers will be able to recruit up to 5,000 workers from Pacific Islands Forum nations. Successful applicants can stay in New Zealand for a period of up to seven months. The scheme obliges employers to pay half of each worker's airfare to New Zealand, provide suitable accommodation and translation, and pay market rates.
In 2005, the World Bank reported that remittances sent home by overseas workers to developing countries around the world amounted to US$167 billion [253 billion NZD] - twice the level of all overseas development aid. In the Pacific, nearly a third of Tonga and Samoa's national income comes from remittances. Creating opportunities for more Pacific workers to work in New Zealand can contribute to economic and social development in Pacific countries. Recent studies have confirmed that people use remittances to fund improved housing, school fees for their children, and investment in small business enterprises.
Oxfam welcomes that this initiative is a partnership agreement between New Zealand and its Pacific neighbours, rather than created within the restrictive framework of regional trade negotiations. It is vitally important that the future development of this scheme should not be used as a bargaining chip to gain more trade concessions from the Pacific.
Coates says: "It is welcome that New Zealand has taken this initiative at a time that Australia has rejected Pacific calls for greater access for seasonal workers. Pacific governments, particularly in Melanesia, are struggling to create enough jobs for the growing numbers of school leavers. Making seasonal work more accessible for Pacific Islanders has the potential to add opportunities for several thousand seasonal workers annually when it is introduced in April 2007, and there is the potential to expand the scheme in future."
"Increased labour mobility can contribute to addressing the many challenges faced by Pacific Island states. However, this seasonal work scheme is not a replacement for New Zealand living up to its international commitments to increase its development aid spending. More aid is essential as an investment in the Pacific, to promote improved rural livelihoods, income generation and provision of essential services like health, education and water."