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Some solutions for the worker accommodation problem

Monday September 03, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

Recently a letter was published regarding the shortage of long term accommodation on Rarotonga, which restricts the availability of accomodation for foreign workers.

 

These are my thoughts on the problem.

When 200 or more of our indigenous workforce leave for New Zealand or Australia to find better wages or for other reasons, they leave behind 200 beds which in most instances will not be available for rent in the household where they are. Locals are not keen on having a boarder staying with them.

When more and more locals are building houses for the sole purpose of creating short term tourist accomodation at $150 to $200 a night, they are obviously reluctant to rent it out for the same amount on a weekly basis to foreign workers.

You can see the dilemma: On one hand we lose the local workforce and on the other we keep adding more accomodation to cater for the increase in tourism. And with the added numbers needed to be catered for, we bring in foreign workers to fill the vacuum of those workers who left for greener pastures.

Would it not be a good idea to make it compulsory that all new properties built for the purpose of accomodating short term visitors that a small dwelling be built at the same time so that a service person contracted from abroad has a guaranteed place to live?

No doubt the people building and borrowing the finance from the bank will throw their hands up in horror at the extra cost involved in this suggestion. But they are quite willing to charge nightly rates to the tourists which will not only pay off their mortgages but soon also line their pockets and produce the much-revered SUV to show their status in society.

So what is happening at present? As every Tom, Dick, Harry - and their dogs, want to get on the tourist money wagon, they suddenly realise that they need staff to help with gardens, service and maintenance of the new property.

So in come the foreign workers, paid the minimum legal wage but of course with high expectations on the part of their employers as to their ability to do the job.

But accommodation? “Yes, so and so on the other side of the island has a two bedroom house for rent. It’s not good enough for tourism but good enough for foreign workers to live in, price? Around $350 a week and you can pile four workers in. (And we are being generous. After all he can, so the landlord says, rent it out at $150 per night) You pay your own power and gas and often the $500.00 annual work permit fee, and your employer offers $75.00 a week towards rent but nothing towards the petrol to travel to and from work nor the inflated cost of living on the island.

You don't need a major in accountancy to work out the end result of the worker's expectations in regard to being able to live here for two or three years and still send money back to their families in their home country. Don't forget PAYE and CINSF is deducted from the weekly wage as well.

The answer lies in either increasing the foreign workers’ wages or allowing extra for a small cottage when building new (this will increase the value of the property) or being prepared to include extra allowances for rental, transport and food.

This will make it a long term investment. Unfortunately, most newcomers to the tourist industry want their SUV on a shorter term.

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