Cyclone Gabrielle: Immigration Minister Michael Wood urgently reviewing whether tweak needed to RSE scheme

The Immigration Minister is urgently reviewing whether he needs to tweak the seasonal worker scheme so they can help with the cyclone clean up.

But there's also another change some employers are calling for.

At a Napier cherry farm on Wednesday, instead of picking, RSE workers are now cleaning. But because of strict rules, they can't go help other orchardists.

"We need a pragmatic approach at the moment. We can't stick to firm rules and guidelines which have been established before Gabrielle," said Barry O'Neil from Horticulture New Zealand. 

Newshub can reveal as of Tuesday there are just over 9000 RSE or seasonal workers in the country, of which, about 3800 are in Hawke's Bay, 179 in Gisborne and 654 in nearby Bay of Plenty.

"I'm currently receiving further advice on whether further flexibility can be built in," said Immigration Minister Michael Wood.

The RSE scheme is not super simple to tweak. New Zealand promises Pacific countries their people will be provided pastoral care and accommodation. Workers go into debt with their employers to get here with airfares and visas.

"I'd like to see that any debts that they have accumulated, the workers, are forgiven," said Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo.

"We know that some of the employers have been utterly devastated by these events and they're going to need some support and they're going to need a workforce to help them with that. At the same time, we need to look after the interests of the workers themselves," said Wood.

We are going to need to import a workforce for the clean up.

But a thorny immigration issue some employers say they're up against is an incoming change to the median wage requirement. Anyone looking to hire a migrant worker from overseas will have to up their pay by almost two bucks an hour to $29.66.

That means migrants could be paid more for doing the same job as Kiwis.

"Another one of these imposts, if you like, inflationary pressures is just not going to happen at all," said Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive Allan Pollard.

"The Government need to pull the pin on this policy. It's inflationary, it's ideologically driven and they need to dump it," said National immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford. 

Wood said it's happening. 

"That's the policy decision Cabinet made some time ago."

Cyclone or not, it's happening.