RSE workers from Tonga who are waiting to go home are helping at Saxton Field by spreading mulch. Photo: Kate Russell.

Stranded but still smiling

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They may be far from home, but a group of 40 stranded RSE workers from Tonga are putting their skills to good use at Saxton Field while they wait to return to the Pacific Islands.

The export apple pack-house workers have been in Nelson since mid-February and were due to go home in June. But Covid-19 had other ideas.

“We extended the packing season as long as we could to try and keep our staff in work, but then we ran out of fruit,” says their employer Peter O’Sullivan.

The general manager of Freshco brings out RSE workers every year.

“Some of these guys were supposed to go home on a flight on the August 25th but with the recent outbreak here they’ve shut the whole thing down again.

“A lot of them have left families behind. My heart goes out to them, some have young children back at home.”

With feel-good music blaring and plenty of banter, the group have been keeping occupied by working their way around the pond at Saxton Field with wheelbarrows full of mulch to spread on new plantings.

Peter says he wanted to get them out and doing something, so he approached Nelson City Council and said he would like to get involved in a community-based project.

“These guys have now been sitting around for three weeks and I thought it would be a good idea to give back to the community.”

Nelmac are overseeing the project, with contracts manager Mark Jowsey saying the site at Saxton was identified as a “fantastic” location to take up the opportunity of using some labour.

Peter says they will keep going “until the mulch runs out”.