fbpx
Print this page
Wednesday, 04 November 2020 09:02

Lack of labour

Written by  Peter Burke
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers chief executive Nikki Johnson New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers chief executive Nikki Johnson

New Zealand kiwifruit growers are nervous about having enough people to work in the industry during the coming months, according to grower organisation NZKGI.

Chief executive Nikki Johnson told Hort News the closure of NZ’s borders due to Covid-19 means that there will be lack of overseas workers – especially recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers from the Pacific Islands. She says normally there are about 14,000 such workers available, but for the coming pruning and harvesting season, this number is expected to be cut to just 4,500.

Johnson says, on average, the workforce in the kiwifruit industry comprises about 50% New Zealanders, 25% -30% back packers – with the rest RSE workers.

“While we are only about 20% reliant on RSE workers, there is pressure on the industry finding replacements for those workers because they are very reliable and highly efficient,” she explains. “Replacing a RSE worker is quite difficult to do.” 

From now until December, it’s summer work time in kiwifruit orchards – bud and fruit thinning and general orchard maintenance – tasks that RSE workers are skilled at. Johnson says, at present, there are about 6,000 RSE workers in NZ. However, many will be heading home as flights become available – leaving just 4,500 will stay in NZ for the coming season. 

Johnson notes that many RSE workers who were planning to come here didn’t make when the border was suddenly closed in March. Since then, the kiwifruit industry has had to ‘share’ workers with other horticultural sectors – in particular the pipfruit sector.

“The pipfruit sector will also be trying to access some of those 4,500 workers at the same time as us, so we anticipate that there will be an issue in terms of shortages. Especially in the early harvest period, until apples start to come back and we can bring these people into our regions,” she told Hort News.

Backpackers have been another major source of workers for the kiwifruit sector and Johnson estimates that there are about 13,000 of them on working holiday visas in NZ. The visas of some of these people were due to expire so the government is now allowing them to apply for visas known as supplementary seasonal employees (SSE). 

This means these backpackers can now only work in the horticulture and viticulture areas and cannot, for example, stay on and work as a barista.

“However, we still don’t know what access we will have to these backpackers and that adds to the uncertainty,” Johnson adds. 

“We will be focusing on the backpackers that are in the country and making sure that they know about the opportunities available in kiwifruit during the fruit picking season.” 

More like this

Rising up to challenges

Dr Danny Donaghy is professor of dairy systems at Massey University and a specialist in pasture agronomy and physiology.

China lockdowns hit dairy demand

Covid restrictions in China are likely to slightly dampen milk powder imports into that country, according to Stefan Vogel, Rabobank research general manager for Australia and New Zealand.

All hands on deck

Growers are mucking in and helping staff to pick this year's kiwifruit crop.

National

Don't reinvent the wheel!

Horticulture NZ is one of the primary sector parties involved in the industry-wide initiative He Waka Eke Noa, to provide…

Machinery & Products

JD establishes new hort JV

John Deere claims a joint venture between it and California-based technology company GUSS will assist horticulture producers achieve greater on-farm…

Mulchers set the standard

Orizzonti is well known in the viticulture and orchard sectors for its specialised range of mowers and mulchers.