5 Apr 2018

Official worker shortage declared in Tasman region

6:11 pm on 5 April 2018

The number of jobseekers door-knocking a Motueka orchard and packhouse on a daily basis has dropped from the usual 20 or 30 a day to almost none, the orchard's director says.

Apple trees in orchard.

Industry forecasts show the crops produced this year are promising Photo: 123rf

The Ministry of Social Development has today officially declared a shortage of workers in the Tasman region, with the greatest need in Motueka.

Regional labour market manager Lynne Williams said low unemployment in the region and the impact of major weather events, which had meant fewer seasonal workers arriving, had driven the trend.

Cherie Drummond of Fairfield Orchards said the drop in jobseekers knocking on the door was noticeable.

"Around February we'd get 20 to 30 a day down the drive. There's now essentially not any coming down the drive. We have still hired five people this week - for the packhouse, and that's off the internet and two locals coming down the drive."

The ministry said the declaration will be in place until the 18 May, and follows discussions with leaders from the pipfruit sector, industry experts and other government agencies.

Nelson-Tasman has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, at 3.5 percent.

Ms Williams said the critical period for picking and packing was fast approaching.

"We're continuing to work alongside the sector to connect New Zealanders to seasonal work opportunities through Work and Income and to help overcome obstacles facing the remaining pool of jobseekers. More are still needed."

Industry forecasts showed the crops produced this year were promising and larger than in the last three years, she said.

"On top of the tight labour market, the impact of cyclones Fehi and Gita have impacted the area with employers dealing with damage to their seasonal worker accommodations, as well as extra work cleaning up orchards and removing silt from around trees," Ms Williams said.

Since March 2017, the Ministry of Social Development has supported more than 400 jobseekers into industry vacancies in Nelson-Tasman, but there are still 135 vacancies listed, with the majority in Motueka.

"The greatest need for labour is in Motueka, which is a small community and most of the orchards are rural and away from the township, requiring a daily commute for potential jobseekers," Ms Williams said.

Cherie Drummond said they had also noticed challenges this year in finding workers willing to work a full 40-hour week. They are also having to continually hire more staff, to replace those who did not turn up to work.

Mrs Drummond said they were perhaps better off than some, as they were able to employ staff through the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme, which was expanded to allow more workers into the country.

"So the cap was lifted by 500 in December for the RSE scheme, and we were successful in getting an increase of five (workers), but our region only got 50.

"It could definitely be dire for people who are not part of the scheme, because when you're part of it you have that guaranteed workforce there, but even then we're getting behind."

Mrs Drummond said a capacity workforce for their business, which includes 150 hectares of orchard in Motueka and Riwaka is 150 workers, but they were short by 20 staff.

The business suffered losses of up to $1 million in the February storms, and they have had to divert staff and financial resources into the clean up, she said.

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