Ethical labour Comparing apples with bananas

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Seven years ago Samoan man Iapesa Niue Save came to New Zealand to pack apples. But he saw the forklift drivers working in the packhouse and set his sights on moving up to that job so he practised in his smoko breaks until he was good enough and now he drives the forklift at Mr Apple’s Whakatu packhouse.

Iapesa Niue Save is a houseproud man. And he should be; his two-bedroom European style home sits juxtaposed against the traditional Samoan homes around his in his small Samoan village.

Once he and his family lived in one of these traditional fale, but coming to New Zealand to pick apples allowed him to save enough money to build a modern weathertight home that can withstand the severe tropical weather of the rainy season.

Iapesa’s household is made up of his three daughters his wife, his father and two young brothers all sharing the 28 by 20 foot house which he built over the past few years. The healthier and more secure structure was only made possible because of the earning potential of working the apple season in New Zealand.

Last year I finished my new house. It’s much bigger and it’s European style. I’m very happy now because before it was very hard to make a living.

Iapesa runs a plantation with his brother, growing taro, bananas, yams and other vegetables which they sell in their village.

A good week would see him making between $150 and $200 Samoan tala a week; enough to get by but not enough to get ahead. After his first daughter was born, Iapesa got the opportunity to work in the apple industry in New Zealand, one of about 10 men from his village who signed up.

He worked in the packhouse in his first year and he would watch the forklift drivers and think he wanted to do that job. So during his smoko breaks, he’d practise driving the forklifts, training himself until he was good enough. The next year he became one of the forklift drivers at Mr Apple’s Whakatu packhouse, a role he has continued for the past six years.

Seasonal work in New Zealand means he can save about $600 tala a week, which has allowed him to not only provide for his family, but also put his oldest daughters in school, and build their dream home.

He knows his job is important and is careful not to make any errors.

“When I carry the bins, I carry a million dollars. If I drop the bins, I drop a million dollars. But I enjoy it, I work hard.”

It’s tough being away from his family but after so many seasons he’s learned to adapt.

I call every night my wife or my wife will call me. It’s like my wife is sitting beside me. I know everything that’s happening at home.

He’s also found some other challenges living in New Zealand.

“It’s a different language, that’s the major one. I knew how to speak English before but if I speak it at home my wife says ‘stop’ and that I need to go New Zealand to speak English.

“Another difficult time is the weather. The winters are so cold. I must wear many clothes.”

At the end of the season Iapesa returns home to his family and plantation.

“It’s my family’s plantation. It’s only me and my brother doing all the work. Sometimes my dad helps him, and my brother and kids work there when I’m away.”

One day he’ll return to Samoa for good, but in the meantime, while he’s still strong and fit, he plans to work in New Zealand for a few more years to make money that improves his family members’ lives.