Unions, growers at odds over fruit-pickers with border closed and season looming

Unions and fruit growers are at odds about how to harvest with the borders closed.

A union says fruit growers have many options to create a new local workforce but it'll come at a cost.

Orchard owners believe even with unemployed Kiwis available, they'll still need foreign labour.

Picking and pruning - seasonal work usually done by thousands of foreigners every harvest.

But right now they can't come in so unions are trying to force an industry re-think.

"With the border controls, that model is no longer sustainable, so we have to find some solution in order to provide labour for that industry," First Union general secretary Dennis Maga says.

Maga says fruit growers have plenty of options for a new workforce - they just need to pay them better, improve accommodation and transport options.

"There are retirees, there are students, there are parents, there are those who are not in employment, education and training," he says.

Orchard owners say they're trying all of those avenues and there's still a shortage.

"We are working very hard on that. We're conscious that we have an obligation as an industry to work hard on employing Kiwis," Summerfruit NZ CEO Richard Palmer says.

They're considering better accommodation, and buses from cities to the regions. But they say there's a cap on how much more they can pay.

"The margins are really tight," Palmer says.

Advice from the Ministry of Social Development tells horticulture companies: "To continue to meet harvest demand, they need to employ more New Zealand workers than ever before, with our borders closed to international workers."

And there's another option. Thousands of tourists on work visas are still in New Zealand and they want to stay and pick fruit.

"I would love to, yeah," German tourist Marie Bock tells Newshub.

Bock is lobbying for a six-month extension to working holiday visas like hers but she hasn't heard from officials.

"If the Government actually thinks they'll have enough workers to fill in the jobs, then they could tell me, but not getting a response is just not very nice," she says.

Time is running out as her visa expires next month. 

Palmer is keen to make it work.

"We'd love those people to stay," he says.

Everyone seems to have a solution. Now they just need to pick one.