Border closures and grounded international travel – implications for Pacific seasonal workers
By Rochelle Bailey and Charlotte Bedford On 19 March 2020, the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand both took the unprecedented move of closing the two countries’ respective borders in their attempts to limit the spread of COVID-19. At the time of their decisions, over 16,000 Pacific seasonal workers were working on their farms – 7,000 in Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and more than 9,700 in New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) program.
With thousands of Pacific workers involved in Australia’s and New Zealand’s seasonal worker programs, what are the implications of the COVID-19 border closures and travel bans in both sending and receiving countries? The New Zealand border is initially closed for 16 days after which time the closure will be reviewed and possibly extended. The Australian closure is in place until further notice. Pacific seasonal workers with contracts that are due to finish in the next few weeks face significant uncertainty over the availability of further work and how they will cover their living costs if there are no flights to their home country or restrictions on them returning home. Two areas of particular concern relate to workers’ finances and their health during the current situation.
Discussions with several ni-Vanuatu SWP workers produced mixed responses on their containment in Australia if they cannot obtain flights home. Some expressed disappointment – they were looking forward to returning home soon as they are nearing the end of their contracts. Some accepted the current situation and feel they will be fine, as long as they can continue working. Others welcomed the opportunity to stay in Australia and earn more money. Half of the ni-Vanuatu SWP workers spoken to said their employers will have enough work for them until between May and July this year. The others could possibly require employment with a different Approved …read more