New Zealand labour shortage prompts government to rethink abatement rates

In light of the continuing labour shortage in the kiwifruit industry, the Social Development Minister says the government will raise the amount that beneficiaries can earn without their dole being cut. The ministry said it had put 1000 people into job vacancies but needed 1200 more people to pack an extra 20 million trays of kiwifruit.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said in a pre-Budget announcement that the government is committed to lifting the abatement rates for kiwifruit-picking workers within the next three years. Abatement rates are the amounts cut from a person‘s benefit because of income that they receive.

“We stated clearly we will be looking at lifting abatement rates. It will happen,” she said.

However, New Zealand Kiwi Growers Incorporated chief executive Nikki Johnson stated that the biggest obstacle to fruit-picking employment was the seasonal nature of the work, not the financial aspect. “What we‘re asking people to do is come in for a short period of time and work really intensively and then to go back to whatever they were doing before and that makes it difficult to attract people who want full-time jobs. The pay rates we are paying this season, for picking in particular, is actually sitting at around $21 an hour and that is a reflection of both the need for us to attract workers and to a certain extent the inconsistency that can appear in the work when it‘s raining.”

But according to, Manawatu grower Russell Bowen, who harvests pumpkins and garlic, said wages were an issue as he struggled to find labourers and paid at least $20 an hour to get more fruit-pickers.

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