Union fires broadside at worker shortage claims

A union has hit out at horticulture businesses who complain about worker shortages, saying the problem is caused by low wages.

Hawke's Bay apple growers have said they may have to leave fruit on the tree because of a lack of workers.

They want the Government to declare a seasonal labour shortage to loosen rules around hiring overseas labour.

Paul Paynter from Yummy Fruit said the industry could lose tens of millions of dollars' worth of apples if they can't find the help. 

"I honestly  think we're going to leave some fruit on the trees this year," he said.

"We'll prioritise the ones of the highest value and quality, maybe as an industry we could leave 50 - 60 million dollars' worth of apples on the trees if we can't find the people to harvest it," said Mr Paynter.

Bostock growers labour development manager Vikki Garrett said the need is urgent.

"We need to have these people helping us get the fruit off the trees," she said.

However FIRST Union General Secretary Dennis Maga claims worker shortages are due to low pay.

"There's a reason no one wants to work in these jobs, their time isn't worth the money and they often cannot afford to live on what some of these businesses choose to offer," he said.

He cited horticulture as an example of a sector which has the money to pay.

"Horticulture is one of our highest export earners," he said.

"If you want people to do the work, pay them fairly, pay them what they're worth to you and stop crying out for migrant workers to exploit."

He said New Zealanders are hard workers and they will do the work, as long as they feel it's fair pay for the work.

"It's important that we red-flag companies that claim to have a worker shortage to ensure they're not exploiting migrants due to their low pay not attracting workers who already live here."