Help sought for workers in limbo

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A portable sawmill, help with freight to get it back to Vanuatu, and more winter clothing are needed by Vanuatuan workers in the Teviot Valley and throughout the region.

It has been a tense and worrying time for many of the seasonal workers; some had families affected by category 5 Cyclone Harold, which hit parts of northern Vanuatu in April.

In addition, Covid-19 restrictions meant they could not return home. As they had not expected to be in New Zealand this long, they did not pack any winter clothing.
Following an appeal, the region’s communities showed their support for the seasonal workers, giving hundreds of garments they can take to their families when they do leave.

Volunteers spent last weekend sorting through the garments, while groups of workers were invited to fill shopping bags.
However, more warm winter men’s clothing was still needed as well as quality bras of all sizes.

Teviot Valley accommodation provider and group spokeswoman Anne-Marie Gardiner said groups from Vanuatu and other Pacific islands had been in the region since spring last year, working in orchards and vineyards under the Regional Seasonal Employment (RSE) scheme.

They usually returned home in February or March, taking with them clothing, appliances, tools, and even tractors and other equipment.
However, because of the pandemic, they had been unable to leave the country or buy the second-hand goods they needed from shops during lockdown, or send money home as the agency they used had shut.

‘‘The Vanuatuan Government won’t allow any planes to land from New Zealand, although our Government has offered to charter planes for them,’’ she said.
‘‘The men are waiting for their Government to say they can come home.’’

As some of the workers’ families’ homes had been flattened and their possessions swept away by the cyclone, the men were looking for a portable sawmill to buy and ship back to the islands to mill timber to rebuild their homes, as well as help with freight costs.
‘‘The most important thing is the men who have lost their housing need support.
‘‘They also know their families are struggling, which is their biggest concern.’’
A Givealittle page was being established to help the workers.