28 Feb 2022

RSE scheme cap increased to 16,000

11:37 am on 28 February 2022

The government has increased the cap on workers from the Pacific under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme to 16,000 workers.

Pacific Islander diong seasonal work under the RSE scheme in Hawke's Bay.

Pacific Islander diong seasonal work under the RSE scheme in Hawke's Bay. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

RSE scheme is a standalone employer-assisted visa category that enables employers in the horticulture and winegrowing sector to recruit an annually capped number of seasonal workers.

The cap for the scheme was initially set at 5000 workers in 2007 but has more than doubled since then due to growing employer demand for labour.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said it had raised the cap from 14,400 to 16,000 so employers could access more labour to help with planting, maintenance, harvesting, packing and winter pruning.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the phased reopening of the Working Holiday Schemes from 13 March will also provide orchardists and winegrowers with access to more workers to help close out the season.

"While we are announcing an increase to the cap for this season, it is important to note the ability to access the full cap may be impacted by pressures faced by labour-sending countries, such as localised Covid-19 outbreaks and the recent volcanic eruption in Tonga," Kris Faafoi said.

Damien O'Connor said before Covid-19, the government set out clear conditions the sector needed to meet before it would consider an increase to the Scheme's cap.

This included making jobs more attractive and accessible to New Zealanders by improving wages and working conditions as well as reducing pressure on existing housing stock in some areas, by providing purpose-built accommodation.

"The sector has made good progress in these areas with wages having increased relative to the minimum wage and a significant increase in the number of purpose-built beds for workers," O'Connor said.

Growers welcome the increased cap.

Industry group Horticulture New Zealand welcomed the news that the government has increased the cap on workers from the Pacific under the RSE scheme.

Chief executive Nadine Tunley said growers were under significant stress at the moment due to the severe shortage of labour that Covid-19 related border restrictions have created.

Some growers were saying they only had 50 percent of the workers they need to get fruit picked, packed and to market, she said.

"While the increase won't benefit the apple and kiwifruit harvests that are currently underway, it is good news for the horticulture industry, long term."

Central Otago viticultralist James Dicey said any extra RSE staff would be well utilised by winegrowers during winter pruning.

"That key time for the vineyard industry, at the New Zealand Inc level, is actually during the winter. There were vines that weren't fully pruned last year in Marlborough.... because there wasn't enough labour force to get the job done in time."

Dicey said with the low level of unemployment in New Zealand at the moment, finding staff was very challenging.

'It's pretty hard when you spend all this money growing these fantastic grapes to be able to unable to harvest them, it's tragic and it's just a real missed opportunity for for the whole of New Zealand really because it's a great export earner."

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