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Second seasonal worker charter flight confirmed

A second charter flight for stranded Samoan seasonal workers in New Zealand has been confirmed.

The flight is scheduled to land on Friday 31 July 2020, after around 300 workers return to Samoa this week.

Air New Zealand has been granted approval to bring two flights exclusively for seasonal workers across New Zealand on their 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, reuniting families separated for up to four months too long. 

Alongside the charter flights, over 100 seasonal workers have been arriving on the routine repatriation flights arriving fortnightly.

The two charter flights will each bring around 300 workers home from Hawke’s Bay, Blenheim, Gisborne, Martinborough and the Bay of Plenty.

This repatriation effort was largely coordinated by New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc, which as the largest employer of seasonal workers and already deeply connected with the worker’s home villages found it a natural task.

“We had such close personal relationships that the information was flowing much more strongly and in much larger volume between out employers and the villages at home,” said Gary Jones, a spokesperson for the organisation told the Samoa Observer.

“Our employers are very personally invested in those communities and see those workers as being an important part of their business but also their family. There was no hesitation to get involved.”

A total of 117 workers from Poutasi under the Falealili Seasonal Workers Programme will be in quarantine in their own village, while the other workers will remain in government-managed quarantine in hotels spread out across Apia. 

Mr. Jones said the two countries, his organisation and the seasonal worker’s villages have been working closely to ensure their return home is safe and controlled in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the opportunity there is that as village groups there is a certain expectation that people will work for the greater good of the community,” he said. 

The two charter flights in addition to the general repatriation flights which continue to bring Samoans home from New Zealand until the end of September.

With hundreds of people still on the repatriation register, Air New Zealand expects each of those flights will be full, country manager Karen Gatt said.

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, which has been coordinating the seasonal worker’s return, could not confirm exactly how many Samoan workers will remain in New Zealand after July’s arrivals. 

Assistant Chief Executive Officer for the Labour Export and Employment Division Lemalu Nele Leilua said nearly 900 have managed to get home already.

For those still in New Zealand, their visa conditions have been relaxed to allow them to work a minimum of 15 hours in other jobs so long as their seasonal work employer maintains their responsibilities over them, but with unemployment rates skyrocketing in New Zealand they cannot all expect to find work.

A German woman in New Zealand on a working holiday visa Marie Bock has filed a petition with the Government asking for six month extensions on visas to allow people like her to help fill the seasonal work gap.

“I don't know how the country will be able to cover all the agriculture work during the summer because I think locals didn't want to do the work before and I don't think they'll be willing to do it now or be able to do it now,” she told Radio New Zealand.

But Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway expects locals will want that work, and has indicated working holiday scheme visas will not be extended and for people on those visas to get themselves home.

Note from Air New Zealand: Samoans who would like to be booked on one of the repatriation flight to Samoa should email [email protected] with their contact details and we will get in touch with them directly when we are able to place them on a flight.

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