27 Nov 2020

Fruit-picking worries remain as growers lament dearth of Kiwi labour

7:44 pm on 27 November 2020

Growers say fruit may still be left to rot, despite the government promising 2000 seasonal workers from the Pacific can come through the border to help with the harvest.

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Bostock New Zealand's John Bostock. Photo: Tom Kitchin

They claim thousands of workers are still needed and New Zealand employees are hard to come by.

The employers will have to pay isolation and hourly work rates while the seasonal workers are locked down for two weeks in hotels.

Bostock New Zealand's John Bostock, from Hawke's Bay, said this was not about cost saving, but Kiwis willing to do the work were difficult to recruit.

"The number of able, fit Kiwis to do the jobs are not available. It's not a question of price, we're paying more money in this scheme, we're going to be paying the managed isolation facilities $4700 per worker, plus 30 hours. So we're prepared to do that, but it's a question of finding the number of available and willing Kiwis to do it.

"It's looking like about $6000 extra per worker compared to hiring a Kiwi. So the incentive is to hire a Kiwi, but they're just simply not available."

In an effort to get unemployed New Zealanders to take on seasonal work, the government is offering financial support.

The support includes $200 per week for accommodation costs, a $1000 incentive payment for workers who complete jobs of six weeks or more and increasing wet weather payments when people cannot work, to reflect the minimum wage.

New Zealand Apples and Pears chief executive Allan Pollard said while this was helpful there could still be issues.

"The announcement by MSD [Ministry of Social Development] this morning on added incentives for people who want to move to the industry and work with us is encouraging," he said.

"It is a challenge though, a lot of the unemployment's focused in some of the larger metropolitan areas and it's difficult for them to move - so the incentives will help, but very clearly there will still be a significant deficit," he said.

Students could be in the market for those kinds of jobs. According to students RNZ spoke to, online ad campaigns targeting them to come fruit-picking were hitting the mark.

"With Covid, I've actually lost some of my shifts and I'm had a really hard time finding hospitality jobs. So [I'm] probably looking for a fruit-picking job after the Christmas period if I can get one if I can't find any hospitality jobs," one said.

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New Zealand Apples and Pears chief executive Allan Pollard (left), with Bostock New Zealand's John Bostock and Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst. Photo: Tom Kitchin

"My friends up in Auckland have decided with the benefits, they've decided to campervan together and spend the month, treat it like a holiday, work whilst they're there and come back to uni with a lot of money saved up," he continued.

"It will be nice to be completely outside and away from where i've been, especially since lockdown," said another.

Growers are still hoping more RSE workers will be allowed to head over.

In Hawke's Bay, the industry has been campaigning to isolate workers in Angus Inn, a hotel in Hastings. This could have space for a few hundred more workers.

Thornhill Contracting's Richard Bibby said the local DHB has a tick, but feared there might not be enough government workers for it to go ahead just yet.

"I'm hearing now it's basically they haven't got the manpower to actually- physically with Defence Force and also the police - to manage that control, but it's certainly something I think that the health part of it we appear to have that covered off and that's the main part of it."

Hawke's Bay DHB was asked by the Apple and Pear Board to assess the Angus Inn's suitability to become an isolation facility for RSE workers, a DHB spokeswoman confirmed.

Officials from the DHB guided by a Ministry of Health checklist for isolation facilities visited the Angus Inn.

Following that visit the DHB submitted a report to the Apple and Pear Board confirming its support of the Angus Inn premises as a potentially suitable isolation facility.

The report was included within an Apple and Pear Board application to the government for consideration.

One final tactic - promote your region as one of the best places in the country - as Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst does.

"So we're just saying this is going to be a great place, come to Hawke's Bay, we've got a beautiful climate, we've got lots of things going on here, lots of events, and come and pick our fruit from February to May,' she said.

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