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Back to the news list Samoa measles crisis: Dozens of Hawke's Bay hortic
12 December 2019 - Media Release - HB Today

Samoa's measles crisis is now hurting the Hawke's Bay horticulture industry, with dozens of picking workers facing lengthy delays in getting to the region.

Healthcare systems in Samoa are at full capacity because of the epidemic that has killed 71 and affected around 4700.

Samoa is New Zealand's third biggest supplier of RSE employees with 1878 workers coming to New Zealand in the 2017/18 season.

Hawke's Bay fruit growers say they need 5400 RSE workers this season to do a job that is difficult to attract locals to do.

Immigration New Zealand says there are about 670 RSE workers from Samoa currently in Hawke's Bay.

All first-time RSE employees from Samoa are required to undergo a chest x-ray to come to New Zealand to pick fruit.

The measles crisis in Samoa has slowed the progress on these Samoan RSE workers' colleagues coming over to work. Photo / Warren Buckland
The measles crisis in Samoa has slowed the progress on these Samoan RSE workers' colleagues coming over to work. Photo / Warren Buckland

And all those who have picked fruit in NZ before must get an x-ray every three years.

But the Samoan health system is currently so overrun with managing measles that it is not providing x-rays.

The hospital in Apia has cancelled all x-ray services until later this month.

Jason Ulale is a Samoan RSE employee at Thornhill who also organises RSE workers in Samoa to work in the RSE programme here.

"The RSE programme is a blessing in our lives, our family needs depend on us workers," he said.

"It really hurts because RSE workers are supposed to have the x-ray scan to have a chance to enter New Zealand or Australia.

"We hope and pray that the [Samoan] government will give us the chance to do the x-ray as soon as possible," Ulale said.

Anthony Rarere, general manager of Pick Hawke's Bay, said the measles epidemic had made it tougher to sort out crews coming to pick from Samoa.

"And the RSE employers are nervous about the possibility of the virus spreading - not just in Samoa, but here in NZ," Rarere said.

Immigration New Zealand and the Samoan government are also encouraging those coming from Samoa to be vaccinated for measles before arriving in New Zealand.

This is likely to delay visa processing and reduce the number of RSE workers in the country, Andrew Bristol from Horticulture New Zealand said.

"The situation is likely to reduce the numbers of RSE workers able to come to New Zealand this season," Bristol said.

Managing director of Thornhill Richard Bibby said he had concerns about a group of new workers who were set to arrive in January and February.

Thornhill, which also requires employees to be vaccinated, usually employs around 230 RSE workers from Samoa with 60 per cent of all its RSE workers sourced from Samoa.

Bibby said it was having to look at sourcing new workers from other RSE participating countries.

"It's a shame because a lot of the workers are returning workers who are already experienced and efficient in what they do," Bibby said.

Rarere said Pick Hawke's Bay was planning on bringing another 42 workers over from Samoa in February but was currently unsure if it will be able to.

The company will decide about these workers in mid-January.

Rarere said the x-ray cancellation was frustrating, but was "understandable" given the crisis.

Immigration New Zealand spokesman Stephen Dunstan said it had made RSE employers aware that the x-ray cancellations may cause visa delays for RSE workers.

"Employers have been told they can consider other options, and this includes recruiting workers from other RSE sending countries," he said.

Up to 14,400 RSE workers come to New Zealand for up to seven months in an 11-month period.

There are 43 registered Recognised Seasonal Employers in Hawke's Bay.

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