7 May 2018

Severe shortage of seasonal workers in kiwifruit industry

4:02 pm on 7 May 2018

The kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty is facing a major workforce shortfall, with about 1200 vacancies for picking and packing jobs in the region.

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Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

The Ministry of Social Development has declared a seasonal labour shortage in the area, meaning holders of overseas visitors permits will be able to work in kiwifruit jobs over the next four weeks.

Industry group Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated said the Bay of Plenty was heading into the peak part of the kiwifruit harvest.

Chief executive Nikki Johnson said the declaration of a labour shortage would help fill hundreds of vacancies.

"This year we have experienced the perfect storm of a larger harvest coupled with a deficit of backpacker and international student seasonal workers," she said.

Kiwifruit industry employers have been working closely with MSD to place New Zealanders in vacant roles.

More than 1000 jobseekers have been placed into roles in the kiwifruit industry this year, but there were still unfilled positions.

More than half of this season's total kiwifruit crop is yet to be harvested.

It has been forecast that more than 20 percent more trays of kiwifruit will be picked and packed this season, compared to the 120 million trays last year.

"Attracting New Zealanders to participate in the harvest is our first priority and over 60 percent of our seasonal workforce comes from New Zealand," Ms Johnson said.

"However, during the peak of harvest, other sources of workers such as those from the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme and backpackers are required.

"The industry is in an exciting growth phase and to achieve this, we must have sustainable seasonal labour. The industry will be having a robust discussion with government around increasing the number of workers available under the RSE scheme as well as other avenues to meet demand during harvest."

This is the third seasonal labour shortage to be declared this year. A shortage of seasonal workers was declared in the Tasman region last month and will last until 18 May.

An official labour shortage for the Hawke's Bay pip fruit industry lapsed recently.

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