Recent fieldwork with returning seasonal workers in Vanuatu

30 June 2016

In May 2016 over 600 workers from New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme and 64 workers from Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) returned to Vanuatu. As a part of her nine-year longitudinal study into the impacts of participation in these schemes, originally focussed on the experiences of ni-Vanuatu workers in the RSE and now extending to the SWP, Rochelle Bailey returned to Vanuatu in late May to conduct interviews with returning seasonal workers. The interviews focussed on employment practices and workers’ experiences in Australia and New Zealand, workers’ plans for the coming months and the longer-term, as well as potential social issues that had arisen from their being away from home or arising from their return home. Rochelle also discussed approaches and measures that have been established by communities, families and individuals to mitigate against negative outcomes and potential negative outcomes stemming from seasonal work.

According to Rochelle, the return of a significant number of RSE and SWP workers provided a valuable opportunity ‘to speak with workers who had participated in varying seasons of the RSE and SWP, and to gain an understanding of what reintegration support systems they thought were important upon returning home.’ Rochelle met with Vanuatu government agencies regarding opportunities and challenges for strengthening pre-departure and reintegration processes and training.

Rochelle also spent time with the founders of a group established to support the families of seasonal workers during their absences. The founders of the group explained that their feelings of isolation upon their partners’ departures overseas for work had motivated their establishment of the Strengthening Seasonal Workers’ Families Program (SSWFP). SSWFP has now extended its support to various aspects of the reintegration process for seasonal workers themselves, for example by assisting them in the development of plans for budgeting their earnings and in making plans for their immediate and longer-term futures.

The experiences of returning seasonal workers will be discussed in the SSGM seminar by Rochelle Bailey on Monday 4 July 2016 and presented in an upcoming SSGM In Brief. Rochelle intends to return to Vanuatu at the end of 2016 to conduct further research with the returned workers and their communities.

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