On Monday the New Zealand Government took the decision to shut the country down. Self-isolation will be imposed, with all-non-essential services, schools and offices to be shut over the next 48 hours for four weeks as the number of coronavirus cases more than double.
It is approaching peak kiwifruit harvest in the country and many growers and packers are already facing challenges due to severe labour shortages. The season has also had significant challenges with delays in reporting maturity clearance from the Industries independent lab – Eurofins.
Seeka one of New Zealand’s major packing companies reported last week that they were around 1000 workers short for this season and made an appeal for New Zealanders to fill the vacancies. The general shortage of labour had been exacerbated by the border closing restricting more than 400 overseas workers from arriving at Seeka to work.
“We are in the business of producing food and not just for the New Zealand market but for the world, and as such we are classed as an essential service. We will continue to operate, but we must meet quite sensible but stringent protocols to ensure people working for us are safe and do not spread the virus," explains Michael Franks, Chief Executive. "Strict hygiene is in place along with segregating people so they are always at least two metres apart, not only while working but also at rest time and during transit to and from the work. We will also have to ensure the best hygiene standards and make sure everyone has hand sanitiser, gloves and masks. Seeka has developed quite a definitive infectious disease policy around what are going to do if we have an outbreak. With the protocols we have in place we think that someone working at Seeka is just as safe as someone staying at home.”
In order to keep people at a safe distance in the packhouse Seeka will have to slowdown and separate.
“We do have staff shortages but are able to run long day shift and sufficient nightshifts. There has been a lot of disruption in the hospitality and forestry industries and we need to convince those people that it is safe to come and work here.
"We are only just starting to harvest the Hayward and the fruit is reasonably immature, so we have probably got around 4 weeks breathing space, but the situation with gold is a bit more urgent. At the end of last week, we had packed 2.7 million trays and that is ahead of where we thought we would be right now. Our loadouts to export markets has not been affected.
"While it’s a pressured and dynamic time the Government has made sensible and decisive decisions for the benefit of all people. As a company we have planned for this event and are now deploying our plans to make sure that we can safely continue to process."
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