National | Mahi

Sanctuary for Sāmoan RSE workers

A Hawke's Bay church has taken in 80 orchard workers from Sāmoa who were left high and dry a week ago during Cyclone Gabrielle.

Reverend Sunita Nua and his congregation at the EFKS Church in Flaxmere were alerted to the plight of the workers here on the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, through a post on the church’s Facebook page.

“I called out to all our church members to come, help, and tidy the hall to make sure that everything is set. By 6pm our hall was packed with people, with nearly 50 that first night,” said Nua.

Hawke's Bay Health Services, the PolyActive community group and Kāinga Ora have supported the church in housing the workers. The church itself has provided a daily routine to keep their spirits high, despite the loss of work, including prayer, exercise and sport.

“Most of the time, they’re on their phones calling their family and talking to the people in the islands,” Nua said.

A liaison officer in Sāmoa had been informed about the workers and Civil Defence had approved the church as an emergency shelter.

But Nua now wants both the Sāmoan and New Zealand governments to look at better disaster planning for RSE workers.

“In terms of facilities, especially in times like this, they must come together, revisit the programme, and see if there’s anything they need.

Especially so in the future. When things happen, they will know what to do and they know what the next step is in terms of keeping our people and our RSE workers from the islands safe,” said Nua.

Reverend Nua said the congregation had since taken in another 20 Sāmoan orchard workers and was waiting for more information from their employers about the possibility of working again.