In March 2020 Stephen Tani joined the Pacific Labour Scheme with 9 other men from Solomon Islands, and was recruited by RWM to work in an abattoir in Ararat, Victoria. Not long after the group had settled in, the coronavirus arrived and changed everything.
In March 2020 Stephen Tani joined the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) with 9 other men from Solomon Islands. They were recruited by RWM to work in an abattoir in Ararat, Victoria, and spent 2 months adjusting mentally and physically to their new jobs.
“To begin, we could feel it in our muscles, now we’re used to it! And our supervisor is a kind, funny man who always teaches us patiently,” says Stephen.
Not long after the group had settled into their new roles and lifestyle, the coronavirus arrived in Australia and changed everything.
Border closures meant the containers used to pack meat at the abattoir were stuck overseas. Production was halted, and the team was stood down from their roles for 2 weeks.
Stephen said he and his fellow Solomon Islanders are simply grateful they arrived in Australia before international flights stopped.
“We are so very lucky that it [the coronavirus] hit once we were here, because I know people back home were planning on moving here. Now nobody is allowed to come over.”
The stand-down period was 2 weeks, and their employer was supportive throughout that time, Stephen said.
“Work gave us a cash advance and [they] have been keeping us updated with phone calls,” he explained.
“They also gave us garden tools to help keep us busy, and we made it our project to clear the garden beds, making room for new vegetables.”
Stephen and his team also received support from the wider Ararat community. Prior to the lockdown, the group of men had engaged with the local church who have since reached out to them.
“The church gives us food vouchers every week. They say, ‘we want to help you’ so we’re very pleased,” Stephen said.
Stephen said being part of the church community and practising faith has been a good thing for the team’s mental health.
“We connected with online services to keep up with our spiritual life. We put our trust in God and because he’s with us, we don’t worry,” he said.
According to Stephen, exercise and being outside has also been beneficial for the group throughout the lockdown period.
“If we feel homesick, we go walking. We also exercise or even just sit at the park – it keeps our minds clear.”
The group has now returned to work and the men are earning money to support their various projects and families in Solomon Islands.
“Some of the guys want to build houses, others want to buy cars, there are people starting businesses – it’s a lot about supporting communities back home,” Stephen said.
Stephen is using the money he earns in Australia to support his family, but said his time working in Australia through the PLS is also enabling new experiences and the opportunity to learn.
Stephen said he would encourage Solomon Islanders, particularly young people, to take the opportunity to work here in Australia when travel is permitted once more.
“It’s not just the money – it’s also about seeing new things and learning skills. So many doors will open for you,” he said.