24 Jul 2014

Farmers want more seasonal workers

4:02 pm on 24 July 2014

What about us? That's what agricultural contractors are asking at the moment.

Rural Contractors New Zealand has welcomed plans to encourage more New Zealanders into seasonal work and a move to raise the cap on the number of overseas people who can work on orchards and vineyards under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

But the organisation's president Steve Levet said something similar to the RSE scheme was needed in the rural contracting sector.

Lamb and beef farming in Sanson

Agricultural contractors say more help is needed with farm harvests. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

He said that the sector relied on experienced overseas operators coming in each season to help with harvesting on farms but this was very difficult under the current restrictive rules.

It was relatively easy for overseas machine operators to come in for a season on a holiday work permit but it was difficult to come back for a second or third season, he said.

"When they want to come back, it's very difficult to get entry back into the country," he said.

"If a contractor wants to employ one of these guys again, he has to advertise the position three months prior to the work starting, to prove to Immigration and WINZ that there isn't someone in the country capable of doing the job."

Mr Levet estimated 2000 to 3000 people were needed each year to complement local people who can operate harvesting equipment.

He said contractors have been trying for several years to change the rules but discussions with officials have gone nowhere.

"They're very reluctant to move on this issue," he said. "It's good news that they've moved on it with the horticultural industry and we're certainly hoping that they'll take up the mantle with the rural contracting industry and recognise the problem that we face."

Mr Levet said it would not come at the expense of Kiwi workers. "We do try to employ Kiwi workers as much as we possibly can, but the reality of it is, it's not practical."