Kiwifruit industry puts call out 'far and wide' for workers ahead of 'stellar season'

The peak of the season is in April.
The peak of the season is in April. Photo credit: Getty

With the kiwifruit harvest underway and a record-breaking season expected, the industry is putting a "call out far and wide" for workers amid a sector-wide labour shortage.

Nikki Johnson, chief executive of NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc (NZKGI), says around 23,000 workers are needed for this year's harvest season, but with a lack of backpackers and foreign seasonal workers in the country due to our closed borders, many orchards are struggling to fill positions. 

She said although there had been a good response from New Zealanders so far, "we've still got a bit of work to we're making sure everybody's got the message that there's good jobs to be had in kiwifruit again this year".

"We've always had good support from New Zealanders and traditionally we've always had more than 50 percent of our workforce as locals, particularly people from within the community, who come out and work for us during the harvest," Johnson told Magic Talk's Rural Today on Monday.

"We just need a few more this year, to compensate for reduced numbers of backpackers in the country and reduced number of RSE [recognised seasonal employer workers].

"We're just putting the call out far and wide, really."

Early harvesting of kiwifruit began last week - with the peak of the season coming around the end of April - and early indications are that last year's record of 157 million trays will be surpassed this year, as plantings that were put into the ground over the past few years come into production.

"It's looking like a stellar season so hopefully everything comes together," Johnson said.

Due to the need for labour, there was plenty of flexibility available for workers wanting to work reduced hours or less than full time, as well as "good pay rates on offer too", she said.

"They don't need to come and do six days a week, they need to find an employer who is able to work with what they're prepared to do - if they want to do two or three days' work or part-time hours then they shouldn't be shy in saying that."

The flexible options - including weekend and night work - were often particularly suited to seniors and students, she said.

"There's some really good opportunities for people just to come even for a few weeks and help us through the harvest." 

Johnson said NZKGI was offering free one-day information courses for people who might be "sitting on the fence".

A workers guide was also available on the NZKGI website to make it easier for people to choose the right employer for them and to "know what to do if things don't look quite right".

Jobs in the industry are posted daily on NZKGI Facebook page.