New Zealand has declared a labor shortage for the kiwifruit industry in the Bay of Plenty (BOP), relaxing regulations so overseas visitors can apply to vary the conditions of their visa to allow up to six weeks of seasonal work.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) says it supports the Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) declaration of a labor shortage in the major kiwifruit-growing region and the extension of the labor shortage in the Hawkes Bay.
The BOP declaration announced on Friday is for the period 15 April until 27 May.
There is a current shortfall of over 1,400 vacancies in the BOP’s kiwifruit industry which is expected to increase to 3,800 at harvest’s peak around mid-April. There was a shortfall of 1,200 vacancies at the peak of harvest in 2018.
NZKGI CEO Nikki Johnson says: “The industry has been working hard to attract labour for this year’s harvest. NZKGI has been running a media campaign to promote work in our sector and early signals indicate that this has gone some way in reducing the number of vacancies.
“However, it is vital to our industry that there is enough seasonal labour for harvest, and we currently don’t have enough people to pick and pack the intended crop. So it is entirely prudent and good risk management for MSD to take this step in support of our campaign.
“We would encourage people – kiwis and visitors – to come and enjoy working in an industry that exports an iconic piece of kiwiana overseas.”
Kiwifruit industry employers have been working closely with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to place New Zealanders in vacant roles. Between January and April 2019, MSD has placed nearly 500 job seekers into the kiwifruit industry. Despite this more workers are still needed.
The declaration of a seasonal labour shortage allows overseas visitors who already hold visitor visas to apply to vary the conditions of their visas for working in kiwifruit in the BOP.
Overseas visitors are encouraged to visit the New Zealand Immigration website where detailed information about varying the conditions of a visa can be found.
To date over 90% of this season’s total kiwifruit crop is yet to be harvested. It is forecast that a similar amount of fruit is required to be packed this year in comparison to last year. This includes an increase of 12% of SunGold kiwifruit which requires packing in a short period of time.
Johnson says NZKGI seeks to employ New Zealanders as a first priority, especially kiwis who live in regions with orchards and packhouses. Work and Income has given help to people that need transport from other parts of BOP and other Work and Income clients who would like to access this should contact their local office for support.
“However, because of the low unemployment rate this is not always possible, and other sources of workers, such as those from the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme and backpackers, are also required,” she says.
She says the industry continues to have robust discussions with Government around increasing the number of workers available under the RSE scheme, as well as other avenues to meet demand during harvest.