Strawberries from New Zealand - as well as other early season NZ produce - risk rotting in the ground this summer. This can only be avoided if the immigration minister moves quickly to approve overseas workers.
On Wednesday, ACT New Zealand leader David Seymour warned in Parliament that the country risked facing a strawberry shortage because Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway had been slow to make the annual government announcement on the number of additional workers he will allow into New Zealand for the harvesting season.
The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme sets the number of workers that are allowed into the country on a short-term visa, to work in the horticulture and viticulture industries. It follows an open letter to Lees-Galloway on Wednesday from a dozen of the country's biggest harvesting horticulture growers that rely on workers from overseas.
Seeking certainty for the sector, they asked the minister in a letter to act immediately, to save the businesses, jobs and livelihood of thousands of New Zealanders. Sources said that the number of signatories under-represented the feeling in the sector because many feared reprisals from Immigration New Zealand for complaining .
The annual setting of the number of RSE employees was done too late for strawberries in particular, Seymour said. "The minister doesn't seem to recognise the practicalities faced by growers. They need to harvest fruit when they're ripening, not when the Immigration Department gets around to approving visas for their workers."
During Question Time on Wednesday, Lees-Galloway was asked on two occasions when he would announce the number of RSE workers. He replied: "Soon."