Coronavirus: Jobless invited to join kiwifruit harvest

More than 20,000 seasonal workers are needed to pick and pack kiwifruit.
More than 20,000 seasonal workers are needed to pick and pack kiwifruit. Photo credit: Supplied

The kiwifruit industry is putting the call out to workers affected by the coronavirus to join this season's harvest.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) chief executive officer Nikki Johnson said the sector was expecting a harvest of around 155 million trays of kiwifruit this year and would need more than 20,000 workers across the harvest and post-harvest period.

The industry was extending a message out to those in the hospitality, tourism and forestry industries, or anyone who may not have sufficient work due to COVID-19, that there were plenty of jobs available in kiwifruit orchards and packhouses over the coming months.

Significant volumes of kiwifruit were expected to be harvested next week and remain high well into April, while final picking takes place in June.

"The gold kiwifruit are ready first and it's a very short turnaround to get that fruit off the vines and into the packhouses. Then the green variety will be ready and it's full on till early winter," said Johnson. 

Johnson said the industry's biggest challenge was to find the seasonal labour required - and avoid a labour shortage.

After encountering a shortage of 1,200 workers at the start of the 2018 harvest, NZKGI developed and implemented a labour attraction strategy for the 2019 harvest which was largely successful, she says.

The industry is keen to attract kiwis into seasonal roles.
The industry is keen to attract kiwis into seasonal roles. Photo credit: Supplied

As a result, a possible labour shortage of 3,500 workers was avoided in 2019, though the industry and Government did take the precaution of opening up kiwifruit work to visitors to New Zealand who didn't have a work visa, which enabled the industry to recruit an additional 477 workers.

Johnson said a key focus of the 2020 strategy is on attracting kiwis into seasonal roles. 

"While working holiday visa (WHV) holders - backpackers - coming to New Zealand provide a lot of the seasonal labour for our sector and others, we're keen to ensure that, as a first priority, we make these roles available to kiwis looking for work.

"We would love to see more kiwis coming into the industry, particularly if they're located close to the orchards and packhouses, not just for seasonal roles but also long-term employment in the sector or permanent roles, as well as retirees and students seeking work in the orchards and packhouses."

RSE workers arriving from the Pacific were not impacted by the government's recently announced travel restrictions, but there was expected to be a shortage of overseas backpackers, who usually made up about 25 percent of the kiwifruit harvest workforce.