Australia accused of 'pinching' Kiwi agricultural workers amid labour shortage

Australia is being accused of pinching New Zealand workers, as our primary industries face a severe labour shortage this season. 

Kiwis are being promised $2000 if they relocated to Australia to take up short-term agricultural work, in a campaign to fill worker gaps over the ditch.

The campaign is being advertised on the Australian Government's jobseeker website, and information was also sent to Kiwis in an email vaia not-for-profit hostel, backpackers and travel organisation, with New Zealand urged to do their "big OE in OZ"," according to

Participants need to work for at least six weeks and at least 120 hours in agricultural work.

"People who have a right to work in Australia (including Working Holiday Makers and international students) and are at least 18 years of age, will be eligible to claim a reimbursement of up to $2,000 when they relocate to to take up short-term agricultural work including harvest work when placed through a Harvest Trail Services provider," the ad says.

New Zealand is currently facing labour shortages in a number of the primary sectors, with our closed borders shutting out many vital foreign workers. Although some exceptions have been made, there are still thousands of jobs needing to be filled ahead of this year's harvest season.

On Wednesday, Mark Cameron, ACT Party spokesperson for primary industries, said the Government here was standing back while Australia "is going all out to pinch our workers".

"Kiwis are being promised $2000 if they complete six weeks' harvesting in Australia's regions. Meanwhile, our horticultural and other primary industries desperately need RSE [recognised seasonal employer] workers, but Labour won't listen," Cameron said.

The Government has repeatedly said its priority is training up Kiwis to fill the empty jobs. It also says it must put safety first so COVID-19 is not allowed into the country via foreign workers.

Last month those fears were highlighted when a number of foriegn fishermen allowed into the country tested positive. 

Permission was given for 200 skilled machinery operators to enter the country in September, but Rural Contractors New Zealand last week said due to demand at managed isolation facilities dozens of those workers wouldn't be able to enter the country until February - which would be too late.

Last week Summerfruit New Zealand also warned a lack of foreign RSE workers was also putting the season's cherry crop in danger.

Horticulture New Zealand has estimated industry-wide there is a shortfall of around 10,000 workers.

Cameron said his party was pushing for the Government to take a "risk-proportionate approach" and allow private operators to operate managed isolation facilities to house necessary skilled workers.

"The horticultural seasons are predictable. They happen every year. Produce rotting on the ground was foreseeable. But instead of working with the sector to find a solution, as ACT has argued, the Government of inclusion and kindness left the sector out in the cold."