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Seventy Samoan seasonal workers still stuck in Hawke's Bay

With winter setting in and temperatures in the Hawke’s Bay dropping as low as five degrees, some seventy Samoan seasonal workers still on orchards are getting cold, tired and homesick.

Anthony Rarere, Pick Hawke’s Bay General Manager, said despite their best efforts, the group of men have been unable to get home on the repatriation flights to Samoa that began in June.

Majority of the workers have been in New Zealand since November 2019. 

While they have been away, their country faced a devastating measles epidemic and the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

For some, their remittances could be the only funds their families in Samoa have. 

Mr. Rarere said out of the 120 Samoans that started at the beginning of the season, just 50 have made it home, with 70 remaining across a handful of orchards in the Hawke’s Bay.

“They are all still working, albeit significantly reduced hours (due to a lack of available work and/or weather). Most have been here since November 2019, so they are tired, cold, and homesick,” he said.

 “Some of the boys are starting to get a bit down and disheartened, but we have a really strong pastoral care programme. We are doing our best to keep the boys warm and happy.”

Pick Hawke’s Bay is a cooperative of 58 orchards in the region that collectively employ nearly 500 seasonal works at peak of the season.

Next season they hoped to increase their worker numbers from Samoa from 120 last year to closer to 150 next season. 

Despite seasonal work requirements being a large part of a push for a regional travel bubble, that would allow flights to move people around COVID-19 free countries with no quarantine requirements, New Zealand is not rushing towards any decisions.

This week Prime Minister Jacinda Arden reiterated that her government would move with patience, especially in finalising travel plans between New Zealand and Australia. 

Australia is facing a second wave of the virus with growing daily case reports out of Victoria. Certain areas have gone into lockdown as the government works to contain clusters of outbreaks, and interstate travel is still off.

Deputy Prime Minister Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters said there may be possibilities of a state-by-state travel arrangement between New Zealand and Australia, but that further decisions like with Australia.

“The fact is we are ready,” Vaovasamanaia told media this week.

“The ball is not in our court, that is the difficulty.”

As Australia’s COVID-19 cases rise, New Zealand continues to catch new arrivals in quarantine with mandatory testing on the third and twelfth days of the 14-day managed quarantine.

There are currently 22 active cases in quarantine (one of which is in hospital), but there have been no new cases since Tuesday. 

Both Prime Minister Arden and her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison have been cautious not to name a date for when any travel bubble might begin.

A scheduled test flight between Canberra and Wellington that was meant to fly this week has been cancelled in the wake of the Victoria case spike.

Managing Director of Canberra Airport Stephen Byron said 4000 people had registered their interest for a flight between the two cities.

In an interview in the Australian, Mr. Byron said Canberra’s international airport will only have flights between countries in any agreed travel bubble, while other Australian airports are preparing to separate arrivals into sections.

“If you’ve got a flight to New Zealand going out of gate 23 at Sydney Airport, (the green lane means) the flight arriving from Delhi is probably going to arrive at gate 63,” he said. Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne flights are all developing their own versions of a green lane.

“Not only are these areas entirely free from risk of infection from quarantining passengers, but all staff will be COVID safe because they will not be subject to processing passengers bound for quarantine.

“If you want to start absolutely risk free, start with Canberra and Wellington,” Mr Byron said.

Flights returning Samoans home are arriving every fortnight and the returning passengers are required to quarantine in a managed facility for two weeks. Around 140 passengers can come in at a time.

Samoa has only accepted passengers from New Zealand or American Samoa since May.

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