Thursday, 18 April 2019 10:55

Overseas visitors needed to pick crops

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Both Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty have a shortage of fruit pickers. Both Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty have a shortage of fruit pickers.

Overseas visitors are being offered temporary work visas to help pick kiwifruit in Bay of Plenty.

The seasonal work offer was unveiled last week by the Government as it tackles the industry’s labour shortage.

The industry in Bay of Plenty is short of 1400 workers and this is expected to increase to 3800 at the harvest peak this week. Last year at the peak it was short by 1200 workers.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) says it supports the Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) declaration of a labour shortage in the kiwifruit industry in Bay of Plenty and the extension of the labour shortage in Hawkes Bay from April 15 to May 27.

NZKGI chief executive Nikki Johnson says the industry has worked hard to attract labour for this year’s harvest. 

“NZKGI has been running a media campaign to promote work in our sector and early signals indicate this has gone some way in reducing the number of vacancies. 

“However, it is vital to our industry that there is enough seasonal labour for harvest, and we currently don’t have enough people to pick and pack the intended crop. So it is entirely prudent and good risk management for MSD to take this step in support of our campaign.

“We would encourage people – Kiwis and visitors -- to come and enjoy working in an industry that exports an iconic piece of Kiwiana.”

Kiwifruit industry employers have been working with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to place New Zealanders in vacant roles. Between January and April 2019, MSD has placed nearly 500 job seekers in the kiwifruit industry. Despite this more workers are still needed. 

The declaration of a seasonal labour shortage allows overseas visitors who already hold visitor visas to apply to vary the conditions of their visas so they can work in kiwifruit in Bay of Plenty. 

The New Zealand Immigration website gives details about varying the conditions of a visa.

To date at least 90% of this season’s total kiwifruit crop is yet to be harvested. A quantity similar to last year’s pick is forecast to need packing, including 12% more SunGold fruit which must be packed quickly. 

Johnson says NZKGI seeks to employ NZers as a first priority, especially Kiwis who live in regions with orchards and packhouses. Work and Income has helped people who need transport from other parts of Bay of Plenty; other Work and Income clients who need this should contact their local office. 

“However, because of NZ’s low unemployment rate this is not always possible, and other sources of workers, such as people in the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme and backpackers, are also required.” 

She says the industry is pressing the Government to increase the number of workers available under the RSE scheme, and is exploring other avenues to meet demand during harvest.

NZKGI has recently got co-funding and employed a labour coordinator to connect employers with workers during harvest and to analyse current and future labour demands of the kiwifruit industry.

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