Strawberry grower says lift in overseas worker numbers welcome, but not enough

A strawberry grower who has been campaigning for more overseas seasonal workers says a Government decision to increase numbers doesn't go far enough.

The Immigration Minister announced on Thursday that the cap on how many temporary work visas can be issued to provide seasonal support in New Zealand's regions will increase. 

The cap will rise by 3150 over two years to 16,000.

Perry's Berrys has had to leave some fruit to rot in the past after difficulties getting enough overseas seasonal workers to harvest the crop at their strawberry farm in Wiri, near Auckland.

Owner, Francie Perry was one of 12 New Zealand growers who signed an open letter to the immigration minister asking for something to be done.

"I'm confident we've struck the right balance between supporting industry growth and preparing for forecast labour shortfalls," said Iain Lees-Galloway.
"I'm confident we've struck the right balance between supporting industry growth and preparing for forecast labour shortfalls," said Iain Lees-Galloway. Photo credit: Getty

She has now been granted approval for workers needed for this season and welcomed the increase in the visa numbers.

However she told Magic Talk's Ryan Bridge many more workers were needed across the country.

"It's good news for us, but we are not alone, other growers are in desperate, dire need," she said.

She said the shortage of workers was especially bad for the booming kiwifruit and cherry industries.

Horticulture New Zealand also said more workers were needed to cope with the growth of the sector.

HortNZ Chief Executive, Mike Chapman said the Government was moving in the right direction with the increase.

"RSE workers are playing a key role in the horticulture industry's continued growth in response to rising export and domestic demand," he said.

New Zealand's horticulture export revenue jumped 13.7 percent to $6.1 billion in the year to 30 June 2019. 

It's expected to grow by another 3.8 percent to $6.3 billion in the current financial year.

"This growth is why we asked the Government for an even greater increase in RSE worker numbers, to support our growth and make up for the shortage of available New Zealanders workers, particularly during peak times like harvesting and pruning," said Chapman.

Immigration Minister, Iain Lees-Galloway, said he understood that the changes were coming at the start of the harvest season for some growers.

He said Government officials had been working hard after receiving information from growers in late July.

"I am really impressed with the efforts of Government officials who analysed the data and provided the advice I needed to be able to take a decision to Cabinet and to get the decision as early as we have done," he said.

Lees-Galloway said the announcement of next years cap would also give help give growers certainty

Newshub.