11 Sep 2020

Fears for harvest as seasonal workers locked out due to Covid-19

4:34 pm on 11 September 2020

Hawke's Bay growers are facing a serious seasonal labour shortage as the reality of Covid-19 sinks in.

Hastings,  Hawkes Bay aerial view, New Zealand

Hastings, Hawke's Bay. Photo: 123RF

The horticulture and viticulture sectors in Hawke's Bay need about 10,000 seasonal workers to work across the region starting from next month.

They expect there will be a significant shortfall of people for the upcoming season - which will affect harvest time the most.

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said if the fruit was not picked, thousands of permanent jobs would be at risk.

"More than 8,000 local people are permanently employed in Hawke's Bay in and around the horticulture and viticulture sectors, from pack-houses to the port," she said.

"But these permanent roles depend on the trees being planted and pruned and the fruit being picked - all of which is looking more and more difficult with a severe labour shortage pending."

"Covid-19 has severely depleted the country's seasonal workforce due to very limited RSE workers and backpackers still in New Zealand. Pacific workers that would normally travel to New Zealand are also being enticed to Australia for their recommenced Seasonal Worker Programme."

New Zealand Apple and Pears Chief Executive Alan Pollard said the potential economic consequences of this issue were enormous and could cripple the region's Covid-19 recovery.

"The Hawke's Bay economy has at risk $715 million of GDP in apples and pears alone, and well over $1 billion with wine and other horticultural crops."

Regional leaders are planning to meet with Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi when he visits Hawke's Bay later this month to discuss options.

Some of the options:

  • Attracting unemployed New Zealanders, school leavers, and tertiary students into the horticulture sector for the summer break.
  • Using workers from corrections facilities who can work during day release.
  • Flexibility of work hours.
  • Adapting the workplace using technologies such as work platforms to lower the physical requirements of the work
  • Teaching employers how to access and meet the pastoral care needs of the new workers.

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