Horticulture sector still desperate for Pacific travel bubble despite seasonal workers' visa extensions

Horticulture sector still desperate for Pacific travel bubble despite seasonal workers' visa extensions
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The horticulture industry remains concerned about a lack of workers in the sector, despite the Government extending visas for seasonal workers and working holiday makers.

On Thursday, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced around 10,000 working holiday and supplementary seasonal employment (SSE) visas due to expire between June 21 and December 31 would be extended for another six months in a bid to help workers stay in the country for longer.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says while the industry welcomes the visa extensions, what the sector really needs is a Pacific travel bubble.

"We urgently need a Pacific bubble, which will enable the safe entry and exit of workers from the Pacific, using the recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme," Chapman said.

"We believe that this can be achieved, with workers travelling from COVID-free countries in conjunction with appropriate controls outside of managed isolation and quarantine".

The labour shortage had a devastating effect on growers this season, with many having to leave fruit to rot on the trees due to a lack of workers and the lost revenue estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.

Chapman said there was an industry-wide shortfall of around 5000 workers during the peak of the apple and kiwifruit harvests this year, and growers were already worried about next season.

"The cost of this shortfall will become apparent in the coming months, as not all the crops were picked and quality was compromised. In addition, productivity fell due to lower skill levels and the aptitude of a number of workers," he said.

"The horticulture industry is still struggling to get enough workers, as winter pruning gets underway and we start to look to next season and the spring harvests, especially asparagus and strawberries."

Chapman said the sector was also losing much-needed workers "every day" to Australia.

"Australia has better conditions on offer, so this is a very important step forward to try and keep some of those people in this country as we go forward," he told RNZ.

"But we are facing a real crisis for our seasonal workers as we go into the spring harvests and into summer."