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New Zealand: Central Otago fruit growers back call for help

Central Otago fruit growers are supporting industry calls for the government to help with labour shortages. New Zealand Apples and Pears has called on the Government to allow overseas visitors to pick fruit without a work visa, when required. The group has suggested this could occur if a seasonal labour shortage was declared.

Springvale Orchard and Central Organics co-owner Chris Denniston, of Alexandra, is looking for workers and said the move would aid orchardists greatly. depends on how many [staff] stick around after cherry season." Teviot Valley fruitgrower and Darlings Fruit Company director Stephen Darling, of Ettrick, said his orchard was "just managing". He said the expansion and development of the fruit industry meant there was a critical shortage of staff across the board.

The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, which enables the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work, has been significant for growers. Due to industry demands, Immigration New Zealand has steadily increased the cap on RSE places each year since the scheme was introduced in 2007.

It is now set at 12,850 employees after originally being set at 5000. Mr Darling said the scheme was "critical" for ongoing success in the industry. quoted Seasonal Solutions chief executive Helen Axby, who said the government needed to respond to labour shortages: "The unemployment rate in Central Otago is one of the lowest in the country. We don't have people queuing up for seasonal work."

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