Calls to allow in more seasonal wine workers or 'grapes will rot on the vines'

There are calls to allow in more seasonal workers from overseas to fill ongoing labour shortages in the viticulture sector.

Last month the Government announced 2000 recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers would be given border exemptions to enter the country early next year.

Those workers would be spread across the horticulture and viticulture sectors during the harvest season.

But on Friday, National's spokesperson for viticulture Stuart Smith said more experienced workers were needed in the wine industry or "grapes will rot on the vines".

The industry managed to scrape through the pruning season this year at a significant cost, but it was looking like there would be tough times ahead due to a lack of seasonal staff and not enough Kiwis to take up the roles, Smith said.

"It's time to allow seasonal workers from Pacific countries to isolate in bubbles provided by the industry. The countries where these workers come from are COVID-free so there is little-to-no risk of transmission in transit."

In announcing the border exemptions, the Government said entry of the 2000 RSE workers allowed into the country would be staggered between January and March, due to space constraints at managed isolation and quarantine facilities, with Kiwis returning home for the holidays given priority.

The horticulture industry has lobbied to be allowed to provide its own managed isolation facility for incoming workers but the Government has ruled that option out.

"It's very difficult to run a managed isolation facility. They're run by the Government," Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said earlier this month.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins also said new isolation facilities needed to undergo an "exhaustive and time-consuming" auditing process before they could be added.

The Government says the focus is on finding Kiwi workers to fill the necessary jobs and has offered a number of incentives to lure people into the business.

Smith said industry-provided isolation facilities are a no-brainer.

"We shouldn't be forcing RSE workers to spend 14 days doing nothing in hotels when they could be isolating in industry-provided accommodation, under strict conditions, and getting to work helping our viticulture sector contribute to our economic recovery," he said.

"New Zealand wineries contribute $2 billion in exports, the last thing we want to see is our grapes rotting on the vine. The industry needs workers now."