Foreign Minister Tozaka returns from NZ

Apple picking. Photo: Mahinda

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Milner Tozaka has returned from a two week tour of New Zealand where he met with government officials and Solomon Islanders working in farms under the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme.

Mr Tozaka visited NZ employers who engage Solomon Islands workers in viticulture and horticulture in Wairarapa, Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Napier.

He had told Radio New Zealand International that employers had told him they thought Solomon Islands workers were some of the best to come out of the Pacific, adding he was pleased with the sentiment.

Mr Tozaka said there are more than 600 Solomon Islanders currently work in New Zealand, the highest number since the country joined the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme in 2007.

He said the number is small compared to other countries such as Vanuatu which has more than 4000 workers in NZ and Samoa and Tonga which have around 2000 workers respectively.

Foreign Affairs and External Trade Minister Tozaka said increasing the number of workers can be talked about, but it is very important the government through his Ministry takes ownership, leadership and engagement by putting in resources and a policy to guide the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme programme in the country.

Meanwhile, Mr Tozaka said NZ is offering to help Solomon Islands improve its participation in its Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme.

The offer was made after he informed his NZ counterpart, Murray McCully of the problems encountered by Solomon Islands seasonal workers.

Mr Tozaka said the problems included the steep airfares they have to meet to fly from Honiara to NZ and the financial difficulty in meeting visa requirements particularly medical examinations.

The airfares are almost double that of other Pacific countries involved in the RSE Scheme and that there is no direct flight from Honiara to NZ.

Air Nauru once served a weekly direct flight from Honiara to Auckland.

By George Atkin for OPMC Press