Kiwifruit industry welcomes declaration of seasonal labour shortage in BOP

It is hoped the official declaration of a seasonal labour shortage for the kiwifruit industry in the Bay of Plenty will help address a serious issue.

The Ministry of Social Development's (MSD) has declared a labour shortage for the industry in the Bay of Plenty and the extension of the labour shortage in the Hawkes Bay. 

The BOP declaration is for the period 15 April until 27 May 2019.

It allows overseas visitors who already hold visitor visas to apply to vary the conditions of their visas for working in kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty.

There is a current shortfall of over 1400 vacancies in the Bay of Plenty's kiwifruit industry, which is expected to increase to 3800 at harvest's peak around mid-April. There was a shortfall of 1200 vacancies at the peak of harvest in 2018.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) CEO Nikki Johnson said the declaration was welcomed.

"The industry has been working hard to attract labour for this year's harvest," she said. 

"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," Johnson said.

Nikki Johnson said the industry had been working hard to attract labour for this year's harvest.
Nikki Johnson said the industry had been working hard to attract labour for this year's harvest. Photo credit: Supplied

However she said there are currently not enough people to pick and pack the intended crop,  so it was prudent and good risk management for MSD to take the step.

"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, and Johnson said to date over 90 percent 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 percent of SunGold kiwifruit which requires packing in a short period of time."

She said 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."

Kiwifruit is New Zealand's largest horticultural export and production is expected to jump from 123 million trays in 2017 to 190 million trays in 2027.