There is more to seasonal work than fruit picking

A former teacher and current leader of 100-plus seasonal workers who returned from New Zealand last month says there is much more to seasonal work than fruit picking.

Father of six and matai Fuimaono Ausuega Uiti has been to New Zealand six times under the Poutasi Development Trust. On the last trip, he was team leader of 117 workers.

Fuimaono, 48, is from Poutasi, Falealili. Since 2013, he has taken six trips to New Zealand under the seasonal worker program.

“Right now I am working the plantations, trying to earn an income because we really don’t know when we will have another trip. I have a plantation that I am working on, I have taros and bananas and right now we are waiting for the word on the pandemic,” he said.

“I am very happy to be home because we really had no idea that we would be able to get home this quick. Tuatagaloa really fought for us to come home and we were able to come home and quarantine in Poutasi. The reason we were able to get home quickly was because of a request from Tuatagaloa.”

The group left Samoa in November and were due home in May. But then Covid-19 happened.

“We were waiting to see if we’d be able to get a seat on one of the repatriation flights. We are grateful for Tuatagaloa’s help…we aren’t sure if we are going on another trip because we will probably have to wait until there is a cure for this pandemic,” said Fuimaono.

“We will have to wait for word from the governments of New Zealand and Samoa in regard to the seasonal program.”

The workers in the Poutasi Falealili group are from many different villages. It used to be just Falealili but they extended the opportunity to other villages and Savai’i.

“The good thing about the job is that the pay is good. I’m a supervisor so I have to watch the younger guys and make sure they are picking the fruits correctly. The apples, apricots, plums and nectarines, they have to be the right color,” said Fuimaono.

“I have built my family a home and I have purchased a car. I was a teacher from 1995 to 2013 and during that long period of time, I have never owned a car. We depended a lot on loans. 

"When I got this opportunity, after my first trip, I cleared all my loans. I have a lot of children and they eat a lot. That is why I work so hard because I need to fund their education.”

He and his wife used to own a store in Siumu, where his wife is from but they closed it down because they could not compete against the Chinese in Siumu.

“I’ve also bought a car and I have a daughter attending N.U.S. Not to mention faalavelave because I am a matai. There are village obligations and church obligations," he said.

"I thank Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale for this opportunity, not just for me but for everyone, especially the youth in our village and other villages of Samoa who have been able to work in this program.

“There are so many benefits for the youth in this program. It is true, we have plantations but if my plantation does not stretch up to the mountain, it is not lucrative. It’s is good that we have this job. 

"Look at the youth. If we didn’t have the program, so many of our youth would not have a job. They own cars now, they build homes.”

He says “our biggest worry right now is the pandemic", though he used the opportunity to highlight the benefits of travelling and working in New Zealand. 

“Another great thing about our program, under Falealili, when we go out there it is just like living in Samoa. We take our work seriously because we want to give Samoa a good name," Fuimaono added.

"Some young men, they don’t like going to church in Samoa but there in New Zealand, church is required and they are given time to read their Bibles and prayer time.

“You learn a lot about a young man’s upbringing when we were out there. We task them with leading prayer and we tell them – we didn’t just come here to pick apples or just for work. They learn a lot from all of us living together.”

In New Zealand they lived and did everything together, despite concerns about the demarcation of responsibilities like back home.

“We pray together. We cook and eat together. We clean together. A lot of the chores we do ourselves, many of our men would say it is girl’s or women’s work," said Fuimaono.

A lot of the young men say that the program has been a great help to their lives. Some used to be beer drinkers and rascals but this program changes them because they learn so much.

“When we return, I see them. They go to church, they join the choir. And we advise them to spend their money wisely. We have a committee that checks to see they have used their money wisely and if not, they are cut from the program.”

There are 400 people on standby waiting for an opportunity to join the seasonal worker program under Poutasi.

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