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Solutions sought for looming seasonal worker shortage

picking apples

Hawke’s Bay growers facing a serious labour shortage are working hard to entice more New Zealand workers for this year’s harvest.

The horticulture and viticulture sectors met with the region’s leaders this week to plan for the serious worker-shortage pending in the region.

The sectors in Hawke’s Bay need approximately 10,000 seasonal workers to work across the region starting from next month.

It is estimated that there will be a significant shortfall of people for the upcoming season – which will affect harvest time the most.

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst says if the fruit is not picked, it puts thousands of permanent jobs in our community at risk.

“More than 8,000 local people are permanently employed in Hawke’s Bay in and around the horticulture and viticulture sectors, from pack-houses to the port. 

“But these permanent roles depend on the trees being planted and pruned and the fruit being picked – all of which is looking more and more difficult with a severe labour shortage pending.”

COVID-19 has severely depleted the country’s seasonal workforce due to very limited RSE workers and backpackers still in New Zealand.  Pacific workers that would normally travel to New Zealand are also being enticed to Australia for their recommenced Seasonal Worker Programme.

New Zealand Apple and Pears Chief Executive Alan Pollard says the potential economic consequences of this issue are enormous and could cripple the region’s COVID-19 recovery.

“The Hawke’s Bay economy has at risk $715 million of GDP in apples and pears alone, and well over $1 billion with wine and other horticultural crops.

“This is an issue facing many regions throughout New Zealand – putting at risk $9.5 billion in the country’s overall economy. This just cannot happen.”

Solutions being considered include:

  • Attracting unemployed New Zealanders, school leavers, and tertiary students into the horticulture sector for the summer break.
  • Using workers from corrections facilities who can work during day release.
  • Flexibility of work hours.
  • Adapting the workplace using technologies such as work platforms to lower the physical requirements of the work
  • Teaching employers how to access and meet the pastoral care needs of the new workers.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council chair Rex Graham says timing is critical with thinning about to get underway in November.

“We need this to happen, our growers need it to happen and our regional economy needs it to happen and if it doesn’t, the whole of our region will suffer the consequences.”

Mayor Hazlehurst says the region is also working with central government to ensure its immigration policies are suitable.

“We have asked for more flexibility around the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme so the workers from COVID-free countries can quarantine at their onsite worker accommodation and continue working, just like they did successfully during the Alert Level 4 lockdown.

“We are meeting with the Immigration Minister when he visits Hawke’s Bay later this month to discuss what can be done - the horticulture and viticulture sectors need all of our support to address this urgent situation and we look forward to having those conversations.”

11 September 2020

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