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Alex’s Journey: From City Boy to Seasonal Worker

Alex at his family's place in Honiara
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Transforming Lives: Stories of Success from New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme

By Georgina Kekea, Tavuli News

It has been three remarkable years since Alex Tabomana embarked on his journey as a seasonal worker in New Zealand, and he has never looked back. Hailing from the bustling capital city of the Solomon Islands, Honiara, Alex’s background was far from farm life. However, when the opportunity to work in New Zealand under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme presented itself, he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to miss. Alex, the eldest of three children, made the bold decision to try his luck as a seasonal worker in New Zealand, despite knowing nothing about farm work. In 2020, he left Honiara and arrived in New Zealand, where he was sent to Gisborne, the first city in the world to greet the morning sun.

“Gisborne is a beautiful place, and I love my work there,” Alex proudly stated. His role primarily involved fruit picking, which was physically demanding but offered a rewarding paycheck. In a short span, Alex managed to buy two cars and even invested in a plot of land worth SBD50k at Mt. Austin. He converted the cars into taxis, providing vital support to his family back home.

“It’s all about saving money,” Alex emphasized. Within his first three months in New Zealand, he had paid off his debts and started working towards building a brighter future for himself.

With his eyes set on returning to New Zealand in October, Alex’s next goal is to save enough money to construct an apartment on his piece of land at Mr. Austin. At just 28 years old, he has already mapped out his path to success, and he expressed his gratitude to the New Zealand government for the life-changing opportunity. Currently, there are only three other Solomon Islanders working alongside him in Gisborne, and Alex encourages others from his homeland to explore the possibilities offered by the RSE Scheme.

“New Zealand is a stunning country with the perfect climate for our work. I cherish the place and the fact that many Pacific Islanders like me are living and working here,” Alex added.

New Zealand High Commissioner to Solomon Islands

Jonathan Schwass, New Zealand High Commissioner to Solomon Islands, highlighted the transformative impact of the RSE scheme on individuals and their families. He remarked, “The RSE scheme can change lives – the inspiring stories of Alex and Louisa show that. And we’re not just talking about the lives of individuals, but also of their immediate and extended families and generations to come. The money that RSE workers send and bring home funds school fees, house construction, business innovation, and many other goals that are hard to achieve working in the Solomon Islands labor market.”

Schwass emphasized that the RSE scheme goes beyond financial benefits. New Zealand has been committed to enhancing the program, ensuring fair wages and favorable working conditions for employees. Initiatives like English language courses, money management education, and leadership programs have been introduced to empower workers. The scheme also focuses on identifying and supporting future entrepreneurs, helping individuals acquire new skills, and return home with improved career prospects.

He further revealed, “Some of these programs are still relatively new, but they are being introduced by New Zealand across the region and will be integral to the future of RSE. We are also exploring labor mobility opportunities beyond RSE, such as seafood processing and construction, opening doors for new groups of people.”

Solomon Islands is well-positioned to benefit from these opportunities, with a growing number of Solomon Islanders finding employment in New Zealand, a trend expected to continue. Schwass said, “Demand for jobs in New Zealand is high, the Solomon Islands Government strongly supports RSE, and Solomon Islands workers have a great reputation in New Zealand. The number of Solomon Islanders working in New Zealand has surged from just a few hundred 18 months ago to over a thousand today, with indications pointing to further growth.”

Regarding the maximum duration of six months, Schwass said, “The maximum period RSE workers can spend in New Zealand is seven months. This limitation is necessary because horticulture and wine-growing work in New Zealand is highly seasonal. Additionally, we aim to ensure that individuals from Solomon Islands and other Pacific nations maintain their connections with their homes, families, and cultures. RSE was designed as short-term seasonal work and is likely to remain so. Longer-term labor mobility initiatives are being explored, but details are yet to be finalized.”

Solomon Islands Government

The Solomon Islands Government has consistently emphasized the availability of its workforce to fill gaps in the RSE program. The government eagerly anticipates New Zealand’s review of the RSE scheme, hoping for improvements that will benefit both workers and employers involved.

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