Cyclone Gita delays arrival of Tongan fruit-pickers in New Zealand

As many Tongans are held up by Cyclone Gita, the NZ apple industry is concerned worker shortages are being exacerbated just as fruit is ripe for the picking. Every year some 1500 people - more than 1 percent of Tonga's population - come to New Zealand under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme to help with the harvest.

Pipfruit New Zealand Business Development Manager Gary Jones said the storm had really thrown a spanner in the works. The biggest worry now was bringing the Tongans over. Jones said flights were going, but difficulties getting to the airport and to access visas and passports meant they were being pushed back.

"A lot of the government departments and buildings have closed down because of the cyclone and we've got a large number of workers who can't access their passports at the moment. So we're working to get those offices open and those workers access to those travel documents.” quoted Jones as saying: “The next challenge would be if the cyclone hits New Zealand and more harvest days were lost with the wet weather.” Any delays would cost not just the industry, but the workers as well.

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