Accepted paper:

Reciprocal dependence in New Zealand's pacific seasonal worker programme: moral tensions between Ni-Vanuatu workers and their overseas employers


Rachel E. Smith (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Whilst some see temporary worker programmes as enabling development others criticise them for fostering dependency. Relations between Ni-Vanuatu workers and their employers in New Zealand’s Pacific seasonal worker programme have become materially and morally invested, but this has led to tensions.

Paper long abstract:

Whilst migration and remittances are currently being hailed as a means towards economic development, remittance economies have often been criticised for creating dependence (Binford 2003:308-309; Haas 2007:42-43). Despite the seemingly contingent and temporary nature of seasonal employment programmes there is, paradoxically, a tendency for employment relationships to be prolonged due to an apparent mutual dependency between employers and workers (Martin, Abella, and Kuptsch 2006:93). In this paper, I will discuss the perspectives and experiences of a rural Ni-Vanuatu community with a high degree of engagement in New Zealand's Pacific seasonal worker programme. Work engagements emerged from existing relations between islanders with New Zealand nationals, and Ni-Vanuatu villagers have been actively seeking out and cultivating relationships with potential employers. These relationships are deeply moralised, as employers increasingly accept a degree of responsibility in facilitating development in workers' home islands. My Ni-Vanuatu interlocutors often described these relationships in typically Melanesian relational terms as 'roads', implying mutual expectations and enduring obligations. But whilst employers and workers alike have become economically and morally invested in the continuation of the programme, these relationships have often become tense and ambivalent as employers find meeting workers' expectations is not always conducive to profitability, and workers struggle with the estrangement they experience in their subordination to a capitalist temporal labour regime. This paper draws on classic regional and anthropological theories of the gift and reciprocity to seek to understand the tenor of relations in these emergent conditions of reciprocal dependency and mutual expectation.

panel P27
Reconceptualising labour and dependency: beyond the working and non-working poor