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Roxburgh’s business community is braced for the economic fallout from the loss of Ni-Vanuatu workers and backpackers for the coming fruit harvest, and jobs are on the line.

Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi recently dashed hopes Registered Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme workers would be allowed to return to New Zealand despite their countries being Covid-19 free —leaving growers facing a crisis.

In Roxburgh, the negative effect on the town’s business community will be felt keenly.

Co-owner of the town’s supermarket, Supervalue Roxburgh, Chris Toms, said yesterday for him, his wife, Cath, and co-owners, Ian and Angela Carhill, the loss of Ni-Vanuatu workers would be compounded by the lack of backpackers.

Added together, he believed these factors would mean their takings would be down 20%.

In the more than a decade since RSE workers had arrived in the Teviot Valley, the business had adapted to cater to their needs, Mrs Toms said.

‘‘We sourced from Auckland taro, and root vegetables from the [Pacific] Islands.’’

Other products in stock were bulk rice and ‘‘a lot of canned fish’’.

Mr Toms said in the years Ni-Vanuatu workers had been coming to the valley, they had diversified their diets and were buying other meat such as chicken.

He said the workforce were ‘‘very modest spenders’’, but estimated each RSE worker would spend about $60 per week in the supermarket.

That added up.
To mitigate losses, staff at the supermarket may have to be cut, or have their hours reduced, particularly on the evening shifts when the workers typically visited the store, he said.

For Ann-Marie Gardiner, who offers more than 80 beds in the former Goldfields Hotel in Roxburgh, the former Ettrick Tavern and three other properties as an accredited RSE accommodation provider, her biggest concern was for her staff.

She employed cleaners, gardeners, a full-time handyman and a man with intellectual disabilities.

‘‘They all rely on that business for their income.
‘‘Their jobs will be in jeopardy if we don’t get those guys [RSE workers] back.’’

Highland Pharmacy owner Alastair Forbes said business was part of the ‘‘collateral damage’’ of the decision not to let the workers return.

‘‘The guys have disposable income and are a significant customer base for us over the summer season.’’

Trade in Roxburgh was seasonal and doubled over summer compared with winter, and RSE workers were an important part of that, he said.

Roxburgh Passenger Services owner Mark Sincock predicted he would take a hit.

‘‘I have 15-16 vans and quite a few of them go out for hire [to RSE workers] — I’ll just have to park them up until next year.’’

He also ran a bus service to take the workers to work before and after his school run.