Kiwis offered $1000 incentive to jump into seasonal work amid horticulture labour shortage

A new initiative is offering Kiwis a $1000 incentive to try their hand at seasonal work, in a bid to stem a severe labour shortage in the horticulture sector.

It's estimated there is a shortfall of around 10,000 workers in the industry, as the country's closed borders has made it impossible for migrant workers, who normally fill the positions, to enter the country.

Now, unemployed New Zealanders are being offered a number of perks to lure them into the jobs for the busy harvest season.

The new incentives include up to $200 per week for accommodation costs, a $1000 incentive payment for workers who complete six weeks or longer, and increasing "wet weather payments" when people can't work to reflect minimum wage.

Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni said it was a "top priority" for the Government to help Kiwis who had lost their jobs in other sectors find work in the industry.

She said the financial incentives would "help address the barriers unemployed New Zealanders face when considering seasonal jobs, particularly relocation costs and unstable income".

"We are introducing a contribution to accommodation costs of up to $200 per week for up to 13 weeks for unemployed New Zealanders who move for seasonal jobs and still have accommodation costs at their primary residence. This acknowledges that people could be paying accommodation costs in two places.

"We've also introduced an incentive payment of $500 to be paid to the employee halfway through the contract and another $500 to be paid at the end for jobs that last six weeks or more."

Changes had also been made to the Seasonal Work Assistance Programme to provide more support for people who had moved off a benefit to take up a seasonal job, but haven't been able to work due to bad weather and as a result had lost income, Sepuloni said.

"These changes are part of the broader Government response to address labour shortages for our horticulture and wine growing industries, which are major export earners for New Zealand and will be important for our economic recovery from COVID-19.

"The Government is very aware of the need to balance the labour needs of the horticulture and wine growing industries as well as those of unemployed New Zealanders, and we're working with the sector to making sure the conditions are good and that Kiwis make up the workforce this season and beyond," she said.

The incentives come after a similar campaign in Australia prompted accusations our neighbour was "pinching" Kiwi workers.

New Zealanders were promised $2000 if they relocated to Australia and worked for at least six weeks, and at least 120 hours in agricultural work.

The horticultural industry has been warning of the consequences of a labour shortage for months.

Though an announcement on Friday that 2000 recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers would be allowed in early next year has offered the sector some relief, there are still fears fruit will be left to rot if the remaining positions are not filled.