15 Feb 2019

Hawke's Bay horticulturalists short hundreds of workers with bumper crop ripening

7:55 pm on 15 February 2019

Hawke's Bay apple and pear growers will get some welcome relief later this month in the form of new workers.


Photo: RNZ/Peter Fowler

The government has declared a seasonal labour shortage for the region, which invites some visitor visa-holders to take up six weeks of work in the industry.

It's a decision those in the industry are welcoming, but they want some long term fixes in place to give them peace of mind when looking at future crops.

In early January, pip fruit growers knew they were in for a bumper crop in Hawke's Bay, and New Zealand Apples and Pears chief executive Alan Pollard said he feared much of it could be lost due to a lack of workers.

"We have an external analysis done of what the crop's likely to be," he said.

"From word around the industry we know how much is being planted and how much is coming into production, so we do get to have a look long term at what our labour position is.

"What we didn't forecast was the significant fall in unemployment."

Apples on trees in an orchard

Hawke's Bay apple and pear growers will get some welcome relief. Photo: 123RF

Mr Pollard said unemployment in the regions had almost halved over the past two years, and orchard owners simply didn't have the bodies to do the work required.

The industry was between 300 and 400 workers short, and it was hoped allowing tourists to enter the workforce would solve the problem.

The declaration allows tourists to apply for a variation of conditions on their visitor visa to work on orchards and vineyards in Hawke's Bay.

In a statement, the Ministry of Social Development's Annie Aranui said it would last for at least six weeks, starting on the 25 February, but it would be reviewed next month.

"If conditions on the ground are largely the same as what we see now, then we will consider extending this declaration," Ms Aranui said.

"We're working hard to fill these positions and want to support New Zealanders into sustainable employment opportunities available in the industry."

No caption

Alan Pollard. Photo: supplied

As pleased as Mr Pollard was with the declaration of a seasonal labour shortage, he said it was the second year in a row it had happened.

He wanted something done to give business owners piece of mind.

"There is a long term situation here that we have to address," he said.

"The one thing we are saying to government now is, let's take a more long term strategic view of labour and let's get into a long term planning situation so that we don't have this issue arising.

"Our businesses are planning three to five years out and they're investing on the basis of having enough labour to pick the crop, of course, so they need more certainty than an annual discussion."

The Ministry of Social Development has placed more than 215 people into jobs in the industry since October, and said it has many more ready to start jobs.

It's also encouraging people in other regions to come forward if they'd like to take up employment in the pip fruit industry in the Hawke's Bay.