Summerfruit NZ welcomes today’s Government announcement that one-way quarantine-free travel for Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers from Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga will be starting in October.
This is great news for the summerfruit sector and for the horticulture and viticulture industries. We are pleased for the workers and their families and communities in Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga who benefit from the RSE scheme. For the sector, having RSE workers in the country during the harvest season is critical to partially address the labour shortage, and will go some way towards the gap in the workforce, since there are almost no backpackers left in New Zealand.
The Industry Collective continues to work with government officials on the remaining issues that need to be worked through. These include the repatriation process for RSE workers who have been in New Zealand since last year and need to get home safely, and the process for bringing in new RSE workers under quarantine-free conditions.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said 'we want to provide certainty to the horticulture industry that we are moving forward with safe quarantine-free travel for RSE workers in time for the upcoming picking season'.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed the need to take a cautious approach to opening up quarantine-free travel with the Pacific. 'To minimise risk we are putting in place additional health measures for these workers. These include requirements to be vaccinated with at least one dose pre-departure, complete a period of self-isolation on arrival and return negative Covid-19 tests at Day 0 and Day 5.
'We are starting solely with RSE workers for several reasons. RSE workers come to New Zealand in a cohort, and stay in employer-arranged accommodation. This helps mitigate any additional risk from Covid-19 by ensuring they go into self-isolation in a pre-organised place immediately upon arrival.'
Damien O’Connor said it also reflects the important benefits that flow from the RSE scheme for New Zealand, Pacific partner countries, workers, and their families and communities.
Up to 14,400 RSE workers normally come through New Zealand each year, with approximately 10,500 being in the country at peak harvesting times pre-Covid.
'Substantial planning has been under way both in New Zealand’s horticulture and viticulture sectors and in our partner countries for the arrival of these workers, with some incoming flights deferred in August and September because of New Zealand’s Alert Level 4 settings.
'We will be closely monitoring this first stage of one-way quarantine-free travel. Our intention remains to broaden eligibility for quarantine-free entry to New Zealand from these countries and Tokelau when we can be sure it is safe to do so. In the meantime, other people entering New Zealand from these countries will need to meet existing MIQ requirements.
'We thank Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu for their close cooperation with us on this significant step in reconnecting our countries.
'I’d also like to thank the horticulture and viticulture sector leaders for working so constructively with us in reaching this announcement,' Damien O’Connor said.
Officials in both New Zealand and partner Pacific countries are working through the final measures that need to be in place, with exact flight dates in October to be confirmed.