"We couldn't have done it without you" - New Zealand fruit grower John Van Vliet was full of praise for his Solomon Islands workers at a community gathering held to farewell them at the end of another successful season.
“Mr Van Vliet, known as JR to his workers, grows and exports apples and pears to Europe and Asia from a 135 hectare property near Greytown, an hour north of Wellington.
“He said their contribution in helping fill 14,000 bins and pack 250,000 cartons of apples and pears for export this season was crucial to the success of his business this year.
“John Van Vliet said the industry could no longer survive without the Pacific labourers who are brought in each season under the Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) scheme.
"The workers that come here for that period really want to work and they want to send money home to their family.
“During picking time JR's Orchards Ltd employs more than 100 seasonal workers and half of them are Solomon Islanders here under the RSE programme.
“Mr Van Vliet said he still makes an effort to try and employ more New Zealanders but there just isn't enough interest.
"But I firmly believe also that we should also employ New Zealanders as well so I have twenty permanents all year round and that is why I think there is quite a good mix.
"So we are actually giving 20 families in New Zealand a permanent job and then we are giving those families that come from the Solomon Islands money to take home which New Zealanders aren't picking up," said Mr Van Vliet.
“After finishing strip-picking the orchards the group from the Solomons was done for the season and getting ready to head back home.
“One of the longest serving RSE workers at JR's Orchards Tony Analau was among the first lot to come to New Zealand through the scheme in 2008.
“Mr Analau is now the foreman of the Solomon Islands men at the orchard and is on call 24/7 managing them.
“Tony Analau said his earnings over the past 11 seasons had been a real game changer for him and his family.
“There are a lot more men than women in the Solomon Islands group at JR's Orchard and this reflects the wider seasonal worker landscape in both Australia and New Zealand, with the World Bank recently calling for more opportunities to be made available for Pacific women.
“At JR's Orchard Pamela Aitorea is just finishing up her first season in the pack house.
“She said she was a little downhearted because she had been looking forward to going home to her two-year-old but had just been told the women would have to stay back a week longer than the men because there were still more than 700 crates of fruit to pack for export.
“Also Pamela Aitorea said seasonal workers did not earn very much in their first year.
"Us first-timers find it a little difficult because of deductions for airfares for both this season and the next. So the pay for first timers is not really big income because there are a lot of deductions," Pamela Aitorea said.
"If you are on your second or third season I think you should be making good money. Because there are expenses here rent and deductions so sometimes all we are left with is $75 that is for us new ones."
“But on the bright side Pamela Aitorea said the extra week meant she could earn a little more cash to take home and she was looking forward to returning to work next year because her airfares had already been deducted, and she would be earning a lot more.”