3 Aug 2021

Growers hope for a 'few thousand' seasonal workers under new RSE measures

10:06 am on 3 August 2021

The horticulture and wine industries are delighted at the prospect of more seasonal workers but want detail on the numbers allowed in under new government measures.

A ni-Vanuatu doing seasonal work in New Zealand under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme.

A ni-Vanuatu doing seasonal work in New Zealand under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme. File photo Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

From next month workers from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu will be allowed in to New Zealand without having to go into managed isolation.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Nadine Tunley said ever since the announcement her phone hasn't stopped ringing with growers getting in touch.

She said growers who had under stress, going through last season without enough labour and facing another season where they numbers were looking even worse.

"It's meant a huge amount to our growers," she said.

Tunley said a few thousand workers were needed to make a real differences, and the industry will be pushing for more information over the next few days on how many would be allowed in.

The government has said there are about 7000 here already but some needed to get home as they had been away for too long.

Those arriving from the three countries will have to have a pre-departure Covid-19 test and another when they land.

Tunley said many details still need to finalised about repatriation, visas and how Pacific countries ensured their people got here Covid free.

"As much as anything that's going to be for both parties to be able to understand how we work through the whole immigration process, because as you can imagine logistically that's a challenge at the best of time, so we just need to understand that workload and what it actually means and numbers coming through."

Central Otago grape grower James Dicey is overjoyed more help is arriving. RSE workers were vital to his industry especially when there were no backpackers or foreigners on working holidays.

"I'm just really grateful for the government that they're finally agreed and understand the gravity of the situation. It's been very stressful for myself as a grower and for wine companies."

Dicey said paperwork involved in bringing in seasonal staff was onerous and needed to be streamlined.

"If we can find a way of recognising good employers that have been in the scheme for a long period of time and give them the ability to access some more workers to really save the horticultural industry and the viticulture industry in New Zealand."

News of more workers couldn't have come soon enough for Michael Franks, chief executive of kiwigruit grower Seeka, and he wanted the government to do more.

"It's been a very, very hard season this year and the shortage of labour has added to the pressure. We've had the pressure of weather, we've had the pressure of fruit maturity, we've had the pressure of markets and shipping," he said.

"We could double down on a good announcement by allowing us to have more RSE workers when we need them at peak times and around harvest - apple picking, kiwifruit picking and the packing season. We're desperately short of workers."

New Zealand Apples and Pears chief executive Alan Pollard estimated the shortfall of workers at present was 7000 to 8000 workers, and the sector would want to bring in about that many by the time of the major harvests next year. Horticulture industries were confident they could do that, he said.

Fruit and vegetable growers and wine industry representatives will meet Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi over the next few weeks.

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