531 PI
Niu FM
PMN News

The RSE scheme has a cap this year of 19,000 workers.

Photo/RNZI/Johnny Blades

Pacific Region

'We're supposed to be beyond colonialism': RSE scheme expansion plans draws criticism

A university professor has called the new coalition government's proposal to double RSE workers and remove caps on applicable industries "dangerous".

Vaimaila Leatinu'u
Aui'a Vaimaila Leatinu'u
04 December 2023, 2:01pm
Copy Link

"We're supposed to be beyond colonialism here."

That's the response a Massey University academic has to the new coalition government's plans to expand the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (RSE), which she says risks undermining Pacific countries.

Professor of International Development Regina Scheyvens says that while the RSE continues to benefit New Zealand and Australia it no longer does that for the Pacific.

"There's been a doubling of visas issued in the last 10 years from the RSE," Scheyvens says.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon promised to double the RSE intake from its current state of 19,500.

Scheyvens says however the RSE scheme impacts Pacific countries like Sāmoa, Tonga and Vanuatu who have lost up to 20 per cent their productive male population to New Zealand and Australia.


Australia has their own program called the PALM scheme which also allows local businesses to hire workers from partner Pacific countries.

She says a majority of RSE or PALM workers contribute most of their money to New Zealand and Australian economies.

"It's starting to have a harsh impact back on those particular Pacific Island countries."

She says the scheme was initially set up in 2007 to reduce unemployment in the Pacific while filling labour shortages in New Zealand.

However, popularity of these schemes has expanded beyond the unemployed which Scheyvens says is due to New Zealand and Australia's stronger economies that produce a higher pay rate.

"There was someone in Sāmoa from one of the resorts there that said they lost 60 employees in the previous year to the RSE or the PALM scheme."

According to a report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), tourism is a significant economic contributor to countries like Sāmoa and Vanuatu.

Sheyvens says one good thing is New Zealand's scheme has not opened to the hospitality and healthcare industry to the Pacific like Australia has.

"Australia has opened the door to people who are leaving industries that are incredibly important for Pacific Island countries," Scheyvens says.

However, ACT's David Seymour wants the cap on RSE workers to be lifted while NZ First wants to recruit more migrant workers in all fields with shortages.

Sheyvens called ACT's goal "dangerous" and that the expanding of the RSE is hypocritical considering MFAT invest heavily in Pacific resilience schemes.

"We're giving with one hand taking with the other, taking really good labour but villages are emptying," she says.

While vital roles such as teaching, mechanics and hospitality become vacant in the Pacific to the economic detriment of villages, Scheyvens also points out the social impact of workers absence from their villages.

"Who's raising the children? Who's instilling the cultural values? Who's running the cultural events that are important?"

"Seeing Pacific Island countries as a place to provide cheap labour is just not acceptable. We're supposed to be beyond colonialism here.

"We need to make sure we're putting in place schemes that are going back to the initial intentions of the RSE."

Watch the full interview on 531pi below:

pijf logo