Unfree Labour?: Ni-Vanuatu Workers in New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme
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Industry growth and the reduction of available seasonal labour in New Zealand’s horticulture and viticulture industries led to a collaboration with the government in 2005, and the formation of a seasonal labour strategy for the future, the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme (RSE) was launched in 2007. The objectives of this policy were twofold: to fill labour gaps of the horticulture and viticulture industries and to promote economic development in Pacific Island states by prioritising workers from the region. Different actors have different aims, and different measure for success. In order for this scheme to be successful for the New Zealand government it needs to meet theses policy objectives of supplying reliable labour to the industries, and increasing economic development in the Pacific. For Pacific island states success depends on the continuity of the scheme, and the remittances that workers will send home to aid economic development. For the industries success comes from having a dependable and controllable labour force. Success for the workers in the scheme relies on them making as much money as possible during the season to meet their goals of financing family and community needs. In order to achieve these various successes workers are made unfree. Unfreedom means that the workers have no freedom in the labour market and are restricted to working for the grower stipulated in the employment contract. Conditions of employment contracts, visa regulations and informal pressures to be ‘good’ men both at work and in free time from the Vanuatu government, men’s home communities and industry participants all work to limit the men’s freedom, which is entrenched largely through threats of being sent home or blacklisted from the scheme. Workers are aware of the mechanisms used to control them and they do resist some of the conditions imposed, but only in a limited way that will not see them excluded from the scheme. Using the anthropological approach of participation observation this research was undertaken in the first season of the RSE scheme 2007/2008, where I lived and worked with 22 ni-Vanuatu migrant workers in Central Otago to gain knowledge of how, they and others in the industry experienced the RSE scheme.