When New Zealand’s Agriculture, Biosecurity and Rural Communities Minister Damien O’Connor met with his new Australian counterpart yesterday, the subject of biosecurity was top of their agenda.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says the cap for the 2021/22 season increases from 14,400 to 16,000 so employers in the horticulture and winegrowing sector can access more labour to help with planting, maintenance, harvesting, packing and winter pruning. It will also help set the sector up for the next season.
Since the borders closed in March 2020, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says, the Government has already supported the sector to bring over 5,550 RSE workers to New Zealand.
“This is in addition to the approximately 3,000 RSE workers who were already in New Zealand when our borders closed and have continued working here,” Faafoi says.
Prior to the pandemic, the Government set out conditions the sector needed to meet before it would consider an increase to the Scheme’s cap.
These conditions including making jobs more attractive and accessible to New Zealanders by improving wages and working conditions, and offering training.
“The sector has made good progress in these areas with wages having increased relative to the minimum wage and a significant increase in the number of purpose-built beds for workers,” O’Connor says.
“The Government has worked hard alongside the food and fibre sector to also get Kiwis into jobs through our ‘Opportunity Grows Here’ campaign and Primary Sector Workforce Programme.
“This work has helped attract nearly 10,000 people into food and fibre sector jobs, but it’s clear our horticulture and winegrowing sectors need some extra help due to the seasonal peaks in workload.
“Our food and fibre sector continues to drive New Zealand’s economic recovery from COVID-19 with export revenue expected to top $50.8 billion by 30 June 2022. This is testament to the commitment and resilience of the more than 367,000 hardworking people on the land and in the supply chains,” O’Connor says.
HortNZ chief executive Nadine Tunley says the sector is pleased with the increase.
“The increase in the RSE worker cap will give growers some hope for the future,” Tunley says.
“While the increase won’t benefit the apple, kiwifruit and winegrape harvests that are currently underway, it is good news for the horticulture industry, long term.
“Growers are under incredible stress at the moment due to the severe shortage of labour that Covid has created. Some growers are saying they only have 50 percent of the workers they need but are continuing to do everything they can, to get the fruit picked, packed and to market.
“RSE workers have been steadily arriving, which is a testament to all parties given Covid challenges and the Tongan tsunami. We hope to reach the current cap of 14,400 in time for this season, as the apple and kiwifruit harvests reach their peaks, and winegrape growers start winter pruning,” Tunley says.