Poutasi seasonal workers to quarantine in village

More than a hundred Poutasi villagers are scheduled to come home on Friday on a charter flight from Auckland, the Samoa Observer has confirmed.

The Founder of the Falealili Seasonal Workers Programme, Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale, said he is relieved to have 117 workers based in Hawke’s Bay booked onto the flight, alongside other seasonal workers.

Under the precarious environment of the COVID-19 pandemic, the flight is still subject to change, but Air New Zealand has approval for the charter flight of seasonal workers to land at Faleolo International Airport around 1pm on Friday 17 July.

The flight will include other seasonal workers not with the Falealili programme and they will stay in government managed quarantine facilities.

But in an unprecedented move, the Government and village of Poutasi have given their 117 workers the green light to quarantine in two large halls in their own village.

Having already been in isolation in their working ‘bubble’ for months, they will be tested for COVID-19 three days before the flight is due to leave, and only the negative tests will be allowed to depart. 

In Poutasi, they will stay in one of either the Poutasi Memorial Hall or in the school hall. 

Families have agreed to allow the school term to restart late to accommodate for the quarantine, preferring their children were not in classrooms while quarantine continued in their hall.

The Memorial Hall compound, which has a fully functioning brand new kitchen (funded recently by Canada) and a rugby field, will be cordoned off to the village so that the men can move around within it freely and get fresh air and exercise.

Tuatagaloa said they will be monitored daily for any changes to their health and while in quarantine will be entirely self-sufficient.

“We are blessed to have a hall with a commercial stainless steel kitchen. They will do all their own cooking, cleaning and everything," he said.

“Nobody from the outside is going to be allowed in, security will be provided by a Government selected security firm and of course our chiefs and orators will assist […]to make sure nobody leaves the compound or enters the compound.”

He said he knows the village and the returning workers will adhere to all the rules, because they understand the risks Poutasi is taking on to bring their men home from eight months away.

“The consequences are too severe should we not comply or fall short of the requirements,” Tuatagaloa said.

The seasonal workers left for New Zealand in November and have been there ever since, some without work after the picking season finished and many having to dip into their savings meant for home. 

Workers in the Falealili programme are expected to use their season in New Zealand to save for an investment in a business to be self-sufficient and not rely on orchard work after at least three seasons. But for some this may not be possible this year.

For others left in New Zealand, the Kiwi government has relaxed their visa conditions to allow them to work at least 15 hours a week at any kind of job, so long as they have their valid employment agreement with the registered orchard. 

Their orchard employers remain responsible for them. 

Worker’s extended time in New Zealand will not count towards time they typically have to be out of New Zealand before they are eligible to work another season.

But the COVID-19 crisis impact on jobs in New Zealand means the cap on Pacific Island workers will not rise as originally planned, with the extra jobs going to locals instead. 

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