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Friday, 06 August 2021 12:44

Pacific workers not a silver bullet

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Alan Pollard, Apple and Pear NZ chief executive. Alan Pollard, Apple and Pear NZ chief executive.

More Pacific Island workers won’t solve the acute labour shortage faced by New Zealand orchards and vineyards.

Apple and Pear New Zealand chief executive Alan Pollard told the HortNZ Conference in Hamilton today that even if the full Government quota of 14,400 Pacific workers are allowed into New Zealand, it won’t solve the labour shortage issue.

Pollard says workers in orchards normally come in equal numbers from three sources: Pacific Islands, backpackers and domestic workforce. The lack of backpackers and local workers remains a major issue.

“Normally, we have 50,000 backpackers in the country; right now there are less than 10,000 of them here,” says Pollard.

On the local workforce, Pollard says low unemployment figures out this week mean all sectors are competing for a smaller pool of workers.

However, Pollard says removing quarantine requirements for incoming Pacific Island workers brought a sense of relief.

He says it wasn’t a surprise, because the thinking had been changing within the Government during the past few months.

MIQ-free travel would allow more workers to come into NZ and growers won’t be required to pay for MIQ costs. The Government has capped Pacific workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) scheme at 14,400.

At present about 7,000 RSE workers are in New Zealand. However, about 5,000 of these workers have been here nearly two years and need to go back home to their families. Their stay had been extended due to travel restrictions triggered by Covid.

The Government allows 150 Pacific workers into the country every 16 days and, with quarantine requirements removed, the inflow of workers will grow.

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