'Good continuous work' available in citrus sector ahead of harvest season

The citrus industry had a "real positive" response as it continues to look for seasonal workers ahead of the upcoming harvest season, but there remain jobs to be filled in the sector.

The horticulture industry as whole has faced a massive labour shortage for months now, with the country's borders closed due to COVID-19.

Normally, thousands of recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers from the Pacific Islands arrive in New Zealand to help pick and pack fruit during the busy harvest season but the ongoing pandemic has complicated that this year.

Late last year the Government announced it would let in 2000 RSE workers, and growers say while that is a help it won't fix the problem. 

Last week, Citrus New Zealand board member James WIlliams said competition in the industry was high to attract workers with some growers offering "eye-watering" pay

On Tuesday, Citrus NZ chairman Wayne Hall said since putting the call out for workers the response has been "real positive". 

"We've had a lot of communication and interest in what's happening within citrus and also other crops in Gisborne," Hall told The AM Show on Tuesday. 

"I guess there's other industries that are struggling, that may be laying people off that are maybe coming into horticulture now, which is positive."  

Although there are "people around", Hall echoed Williams in saying the citrus sector was competing with others in the horticulture industry, such as kiwifruit and apple growers, which had a similar harvest time.

"We sort of don't really peak until about April, May, so there's good continuous work available in the region," he said, adding that citrus growers in Northland also needed pickers.

He said while "a lot of people out there are not quite suitable for the physical work involved in fruit picking" for those fit for the job the work could be both enjoyable and lucrative.

"There's certainly good rates to be made. There's some good incentives there that go with the job and some really good employers out there that value good people."

The average day for an orchard worker began at around 7:30am and finished up around 3:30pm or 4pm, he said, adding that seasonal workers would often make the most of the region by going "off to the beach, off to the wineries" when they had clocked off for the day.

Anyone looking for work was encouraged to visit the website of either Work The Seasons or TIPU.