Tuesday, 13 July 2021 14:55

No workers, no growth!

Written by  Peter Burke
Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson. Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson.

Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson says unless the kiwifruit industry gets more people to work in the sector, it may have to look at slowing down its speed of growth.

Matthieson told Hort News the biggest challenge for the industry is getting a good and consistent supply of people coming through the sector. Those who can help pick the fruit - as well as prepare the orchards for the next season's crop. He adds the sector also want people to work through the post-harvest facilities to ensure that fruit is being managed well, to get it to market in the best condition.

Mathieson says New Zealanders currently make up about 55% of the kiwifruit sector's workforce, while backpackers make up about 25% and RSE workers around 15%.

"We have a good mix, but we are certainly looking for more to supplement the migrant workers and the backpackers," he told Hort News.

"Normally, we would have about 400,000 backpackers in NZ, but that number is down to about 7,000. More of those are going home because of continued border restrictions - so we need more people to replace them."

Matthieson says labour shortage are right across the primary sector, all of which are working with the Government to look at more options to resolve the workforce problem.

"Covid is an incredibly challenging situation and I think what we need to see is more Kiwis getting vaccinated," he adds. "Once we have got the NZ population safe through vaccination, we will be looking at the relationship with the Pacific Islands to increase the amount of RSEs we need to help in the kiwifruit industry.

"We know that in the islands there is some resistance at the moment, until there are good levels of vaccination to allow many of their people to come into NZ."

However, Mathieson hopes that when those vaccines are rolled out in the Pacific Islands and in NZ, the situation will change and we see a return of both the migrant workers groups and also the backpackers.

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