24 May 2018

Kiwifruit packing company describes jobs as 's*** work'

From Checkpoint, 5:37 pm on 24 May 2018

After pointing to "welfare dependency" as a reason for its worker shortage a fortnight ago, a kiwifruit packing company has now admitted its jobs are "shit work".

The kiwifruit industry is still in self-declared crisis with a seasonal labour shortage of around 600 workers, mainly pickers and packers, because of a bumper crop and a drop in the number of foreign workers, such as backpackers.

Stuart Weston is the managing director of fruit packing company Apata, which will harvest and store around 10 percent of the Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit this year.

He told RNZ's Morning Report earlier this month some New Zealanders on benefits in the region "choose to go hungry rather than work in a packhouse" and there were issues with "multi-generational welfare dependency".

But Apata's communications manager told Checkpoint with John Campbell, on a visit to one of the company's pack houses last week, that he was not  surprised New Zealanders weren't applying for kiwifruit packing jobs.

Checkpoint's Zac Fleming tries his hand at kiwifruit packing.

Checkpoint's Zac Fleming tries his hand at kiwifruit packing. Photo: Screenshot / Checkpoint

David Freeman described the work, which is monotonous, almost always paid at the minimum wage, inside a windowless shed, illuminated by florescent light, as "shit work".

"It's pretty tough work. I've done it myself before," Mr Freeman said.

"It's just tough, it's really tough work. And you're doing the same thing over and over and over again, it's quite repetitive."

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Photo: Screenshot / Checkpoint

A 19-year-old German backpacker working at Apata said what made the work bearable was an end date.

"I know I'm not gonna work here for the next three years, I'm only gonna work here for the next two weeks," he said.

Apata filled its vacancies, since Mr Weston spoke to media a fortnight ago, without raising wages.

But when asked if increasing wages across the board would fix the worker shortage, given almost all pack houses pay their employees the minimum wage, or just above it, Mr Freeman said he didn't know.

"Oh look it's too hard to say, I'm not a macro economist, so I can't say."

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Photo: Screenshot / Checkpoint