New Zealand consumers could be paying more than double the price for strawberries this summer, as one of the country's biggest growers fears she will be forced to shut down her business. The owner of Perry's Berrys, Francie Perry, says the government has refused to allocate her vital overseas workers necessary to pick her crop as part of the controversial "recognised seasonal employer" scheme.
She says she is just one of many horticulturalists in the country in crisis and it could cost thousands of local workers their jobs as well.
Perry's Berrys have invested millions in its strawberry plants, with harvesting starting in three weeks. But with no overseas pickers, it could be wasted. Without foreign pickers she says she'll have to turn her back on a business she has run for 40 years.
The 1200 local workers she also employs during the season will lose their jobs, she said. “New Zealanders have long shunned picking work as too hard," Ms Perry said. "The government realised that setting up the recognised seasonal employer or RSE scheme in 2007 so growers could recruit overseas workers to fill the void.”
Immigration New Zealand has turned down her application. It says she's not profitable enough, but Ms Perry says last year she only had 90 overseas pickers and it left her way short. "We couldn't harvest 25 per cent of our crop - the fruit was rotting in the ground - so the prices Christmas week doubled. They doubled overnight."
Courgette grower Brett Heap says he could plant more but knows he'd never get the pickers needed to harvest it all. “The whole scheme needs to be dismantled and rebuilt,” Mr Heap said. “This cap is effectively a restraining mechanism not just on us as individual growers, but on the industry in its entirety.”
Immigration New Zealand reviewed Perry’s Berrys application and late yesterday afternoon re-instated their RSE status for another 18 months. That means she will have access to overseas workers on the scheme.
Francie Perry says she is relieved with the decision and it enables her to proceed with some certainty for the next two seasons including going ahead with building overseas worker accommodation. However, she still has some concerns about the number of overseas workers she will be able to get, and whether it will be enough to harvest all the upcoming season’s strawberry crop.