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Serious shortage of workers for apple and kiwifruit harvest

The kiwifruit and apple industries are looking for New Zealanders to help fill labour shortages for this season's harvest, caused in part by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Kiwifruit

Chief executive of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers, Nikki Johnson, said RSE workers arriving from the Pacific were not impacted by the government's recently announced travel restrictions, but there would be an impact on overseas backpackers, who usually made up about 25 per cent of the workforce.

"CThere are certainly a lot of opportunities in kiwifruit at the moment, there are jobs now, we know we have shortages now, so there's a real opportunity for people who might be impacted by their normal work [being disrupted] to come and work in kiwifruit, particularly for the next 12 weeks as we get through the peak of the harvest," she said.

Seeka has today announced a labour shortage of 300 positions across their kiwifruit orchard and post-harvest operations in Bay of Plenty, Coromandel and Northland. Seeka Chief Executive, Michael Franks said, “The usual flow of people to work for us in our eight facilities across the North Island has been impacted. The number of backpackers through our doors is low, and a significant portion of our experienced Recognised Seasonal Employee (RSE) scheme employees have been restricted from departing their country.”

Franks outlined that 135 RSE workers scheduled from Malaysia had been restricted, with their Government closing their borders for both inbound and outbound travellers. Sensibly the New Zealand Government had allowed those vacancies to be filled with workers from the Pacific Islands. 

Franks explains, "While we look to employ New Zealanders first and foremost, we also need to find other sources of workers such as backpackers and those from the RSE scheme as the harvesting and packing window of kiwifruit is relatively short. To date around 5% of crop Seeka handles has been processed, for the moment we have coped – however in about three weeks we will hit peak flow and need far more numbers of people. We're open to new solutions, and given there are local businesses affected by coronavirus in Tourism or Forestry who may be having difficulties keeping staff employed, working in the kiwifruit industry for a short term could be beneficial for everyone. We ask anyone looking for work to get in touch."

Apples

Alan Pollard, chief executive of New Zealand Apples and Pears, said the Covid-19 outbreak was putting further strain on the labour shortages typically experienced by the sector during this time of year.

"It certainly doesn't help because, as I've said, back packers for example which have been a source of workers in the past, are just not here now so it puts some pressure on, but the pressure was there even before the outbreak," Pollard said.

Quarantine

Also a large group of Thai seasonal workers brought to New Zealand to pick kiwifruit have gone into quarantine at a Bay of Plenty holiday park.

The 40 workers, employed by packing house Apata and brought to the country under Immigration NZ's Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, arrived in the country at midday on Monday, just hours after the Government's restrictions for foreign travellers came into play. None of the workers have shown any sign of sickness.


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