These three blogs in The Australian National University’s Devpolicy series (August/September 2021) review the impacts of COVID-19 related border closures on I-Kiribati women recruited for seasonal work in New Zealand between September 2019 and January 2020. These women, most of whom have been in New Zealand for almost two years, have been unable to return to Kiribati because there has been, and remains, no clear repatriation pathway.
The authors examine some of the challenges the I-Kiribati women, their employers and their families at home have faced in adapting to continuous employment over the two year period, rather than the six month contract the women originally signed on for when they left Kiribati. At the time of writing (late August, 2021) community transmission of COVID-19 in both Fiji and New Zealand meant that discussions between the Kiribati and New Zealand Governments about special arrangements to facilitate repatriation were again in limbo.
The women face the prospect of commencing a third successive season of picking and packing blueberries, kiwifruit, tomatoes and, later, lemons and mandarins, without the usual break back in Kiribati between seasons to recover from the strenuous 8-10 hour days/nights in the field or packhouse in New Zealand. Their contributions, along with those of the I-Kiribati men and other seasonal workers who have worked continuously in New Zealand’s horticulture and viticulture sector since before March 2020, have been exceptional, if little acknowledged and recognised, during an exceptional year for the RSE scheme.