Coronavirus: Further strain on fruit picking labour shortages

By Maja Burry of RNZ

The kiwifruit and apple industries are looking for New Zealanders to help fill labour shortages for this season's harvest, caused in part by the Covid-19 outbeak.

Chief executive of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers, Nikki Johnson, said RSE workers arriving from the Pacific were not impacted by the government's recently announced travel restrictions, but there would be an impact on overseas backpackers, who usually made up about 25 percent of the workforce.

"We imagine that some of those backpackers are already here in New Zealand and we're hoping they'll come and take part in the jobs as they normally do, but it will obviously have an impact on people coming into New Zealand if they were planning to come in for the season."

Johnson said the organisation was ramping up efforts to recruit New Zealanders, including those who no longer had work due to Covid-19.

"Certainly a lot of opportunities in kiwifruit at the moment, there are jobs now, we know we have shortages now, so there's a real opportunity for people who might be impacted by their normal work [being disrupted] to come and work in kiwifruit, particularly for the next 12 weeks as we get through the peak of the harvest," she said.

Alan Pollard, chief executive of New Zealand Apples and Pears, said the Covid-19 outbreak was putting further strain on the labour shortages typically experienced by the sector during this time of year.

"It certainly doesn't help because, as I've said, back packers for example which have been a source of workers in the past, are just not here now so it puts some pressure on, but the pressure was there even before the outbreak," Pollard said.

The chief executive of Horticulture New Zealand, Mike Chapman said anyone wanting work in the horticulture or wine industry should contact local growers or visit Work the Seasons because there are jobs available now.