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Tonga opts out of new NZ seasonal workers scheme

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Dr Fotu Fisi’iahi, CEO, Ministry of Internal Affairs (far right) and other repatriates from New Zealand, arrive at the Tanoa Hotel, Nuku'alofa. 4 August 2020.

Tonga has opted out of New Zealand’s new seasonal workers scheme this year, due to not being able to meet certain criteria including a guaranteed return flight home at the end of the season.

Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reported today that Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji are taking part in this new scheme, which requires an extra 2,000 experienced seasonal workers from January to mid-March this year.

Another criteria of the new scheme includes Pacific countries putting in place plans to repatriate any other workers who are still in New Zealand from the previous season and ready to return home.

Tonga’s Ministry of Internal Affairs CEO, Dr Fotu Fisi’iahi, told RNZ that Tonga has limited quarantine facilities and can only repatriate 248 people every three weeks.

"We have close to 4,000 Tongans stranded in New Zealand, Australia and other parts of the world, some of them worse off financially than RSE workers, living with families, living in garages and not earning any money.”

"We need to prioritise those families to ensure they get back home safely and feeling well,” he said. "We also have 1,400 plus Tongans in New Zealand already doing RSE work, so we have to get them back to Tonga once they're finished to then take part in the new programme."

"Samoa, Vanuatu, the Solomons and Fiji have taken up on the opportunity because most of their workers have returned home when the borders closed in New Zealand last year.”

"We are slowly bringing Tongans back home, and we're not worse off because in the meantime we continue to send 152 people every second week to Australia for work."

Last year, some seasonal workers employers in New Zealand criticized the Tongan Government for being too slow or failing to repatriate workers who had completed their season.