In the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, New Zealand horti industry players would like permanent changes to the season worker scheme being urgently reviewed. As it stands, Immigration Minister Michael Wood is taking advice on whether flexibility can be built into the seasonal worker scheme to allow workers to be redeployed to help with the cyclone clean-up, which could include work outside of the horticulture field.
Currently, workers on a RSE visa can only work planting, maintaining, harvesting and packing crops for around seven months with an approved employer. The East Coast regions hit hardest by Cyclone Gabrielle are RSE hot spots – with 3871 of New Zealand’s 9079 current seasonal workers located in Hawkes Bay. A further 654 are in the Bay of Plenty and 179 are in Gisborne.
For some workers, the orchards they were assigned to have been wiped out. However, although maintaining the orchard is approved under the scheme, they may be left without a full season of work to do – putting pressure on employers, who have to pay a minimum of 30 hours a week.