The opportunity for thousands of Tongans to find seasonal employment in New Zealand for seven months annually could become a reality as early as May, according to Sione Maumau, the acting secretary of Tonga's Ministry of Labour, Commerce and Industries today.
Sione said that a two-day meeting in Nuku'alofa, on Wednesday and Thursday this week was held between a five-members New Zealand delegation led by Ms Leitumai Malaulau, the Establishment Director, Pacific Division, Immigration New Zealand, and their Tongan counterparts, led by the Minister of Labour Commerce and Industries, Hon. Lisiate 'Akolo. It was agreed that a Memorandum of Understanding could be signed within two weeks , and the work scheme, known as the Recognised Seasonal Employer to "kick start" on April 30.
Sione said that meanwhile the two most important tasks to be completed before the MOU is signed are for Tonga to get in motion a pre-selection and screening process of people who want to participate in the scheme.
On the other hand the New Zealand government and the New Zealand employers must also have a clear understanding of their obligations. Once they agreed and confirmed, Sione said they would then return for the signing of a MOU.
Sione said that parties who were involved in pre-selection and screening, included the Ministry of Labour, Commerce and Industries, the Prime Minister's Office, the New Zealand Immigration Service and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "They will set out the criteria of the kind of people that we would like to have in our data base for the New Zealand employers to come and make their selection from."
The approach is to set up Village Committees to carry out the pre-selection, according to criteria that will be given to them, he said. "We simply want to have good reliable people. Both men and women, ranginig in age from 20 to 60 are welcome. If they are good workers, after their first seven months, their employers may want them back again the following year." Sione stressed that the work agreement is only for seven months per annum. These seasonal workers are needed to pick fruits in orchard farms.
Sione said that soon they would be visiting the villages to explain the scheme to the Village Committees and the people, because they wanted to build up their data base so that by April 30 they should have enough there for New Zealand employers to select from. The seasonal number of fruit pickers that New Zealand needs from Tonga, ranges from a minimum of 2,500 up to 5,000. "Once an employer selects his workers then we will move on to the next stage which is pre-departure orientation, and involved in this stage will be the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and the New Zealand employers.
"The New Zealand employer is responsible for the travel, accommodation and the salaries of his workers."
On this initial part of the scheme Sione said they would recruit workers only from Tongatapu, 'Eua, Ha'apai and Vava'u. "We will include the Niuas later when we have the time to visit and explain to the people the scheme."
The New Zealand team who leave this week included Brian Smythe, a former New Zealand High Commissioner to Tonga and now a Pacific Regional Trade Advisor with the NZMFAT.