Government to reconsider costs of second COVID-19 repatriation phase

The Council of Ministers will reconsider a COVID-19 National Advisory Committee’s decision to have citizens and residents stranded abroad in the corona pandemic pay for their own return home in the second phase of repatriation.

The COVID-19 National Advisory Committee had said travelers who return in the second phase of repatriation will pay for their own airfares and hotel rooms for their 14 days quarantine.

The decision has raised complaints and concerns from seasonal workers who will be returning in the second phase of repatriation. Many seasonal workers who are still in Australia and New Zealand said they were not happy about the decision made to have them pay costs, saying this will be a major expense to them.

And, Deputy Prime Minister Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau, now says the decision made by the National Advisory Committee is not a final one.

He says he does not see any reason why this second repatriation phase should be different from the first.

Mr Kalsakau says the Government will make sure everyone who is repatriated will be treated fairly.

“We will sit down in a Council of Ministers meeting and make some final decisions about it,” Deputy Prime Minister Kalsakau said.

“If workers have paid for return airfares on Air Vanuatu before leaving the country, then the airline needs to go back and get the workers back into the country.

“For the quarantine costs, it is something that the Government needs to seriously consider with the cluster committees who are in charge of quarantine.”

The Commissioner of Labour, Murielle Metsan Meltenoven, says Pacific labour mobility programs have supported Vanuatu’s Gross Domestic Product in the past years and the Government needs to continue supporting the workers.

“As the Labour Commissioner, I think it is unfair not to provide repatriation assistance to our seasonal workers,” Mrs Meltenoven said.

She agreed COVID-19 has put pressure on the national budget and the country’s economy but she says the Government must support the seasonal workers returning in this second phase of repatriation.

“This is because in the first phase of repatriation, many of the seasonal workers benefited from the Government’s support and these workers are no different to the workers returning in the second phase of repatriation,” Mrs Meltenoven said.

“They are all seasonal workers working overseas, working under the same programs that are benefiting the country.

“And many of them who are still in Australia and New Zealand have completed their contracts and are now using up their own money waiting for the next repatriation.”

Mrs Meltenoven says the Labour Office is working with the Australian Government to be able to support Vanuatu to pay for the quarantine costs for the Ni-Vanuatu workers who are working in Australia.

The Vanuatu Government has announced the second phase of repatriation will happen in the second week of August.

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