"We have to think a bit differently now."
With kiwifruit picking season underway, growers need 23,000 workers for the harvest. But Covid travel restrictions means there will be a shortfall of pickers.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc (NZKGI) chief executive Nikki Johnson told Rural News she’s hopeful that enough New Zealanders will join the industry to fill seasonal positions to get the fruit picked, packed and shipped in premium condition.
Johnson says pickers and packers should expect to earn at least the living wage in this year’s harvest – and that’s a great message to attract NZ workers to the industry. “Almost all packhouses have told NZKGI that they will be paying at least the living wage of $22.10/ hour. Kiwifruit picking is expected to exceed the living wage and paid an average of $24 last year when the minimum wage was $18.90 per hour.
“Workers are encouraged to consider their options and find an employer who meets their expectations around pay, hours and locations.”
Kiwifruit picking wages vary. With workers with higher skill levels at picking generally paid more than those with lesser skills.
Johnson says Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme workers who return to work in the industry for multiple seasons are generally more skilled than, for example, backpackers who may be visiting New Zealand to work for one season.
“Wages for picking also vary between employer and depend on the kiwifruit variety and way that the kiwifruit are picked. For those that are paid by piece rate, those who have high productivity will earn the most,” she says.
To lure more NZ fruit pickers in to orchards, NZKGI has launched an outreach programme targeting seniors and tertiary students.
Johnson says growers are working closely with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to ensure unemployed Kiwis are fully aware of what the industry can offer.
“We’re thrilled to have the support of MSD and MPI behind us; they are creating some excellent initiatives, events and marketing to get the messages around kiwifruit work opportunities to those seeking employment – and it’s not just about seasonal work. Kiwifruit offers long-term and permanent career opportunities in our leading horticultural sector.”
The harvest runs through till June and is expected to produce even more than last year’s record of 157 million trays of Green and Gold.
NZKGI has been working for several months to prepare for the season opening and the significant labour requirements.
“Our strategy to attract labour is to get as much information and awareness about the seasonal work available for potential workers out there through a wide range of media and channels and correct any misconceptions about kiwifruit work. We want the opportunities to be highly visible and well-understood,” says Johnson.
Key resources prepared to support the strategy include an updated, online video featuring orchard workers and growers talking about the industry and jobs, a comprehensive 14-page workers’ guide to the seasonal work – The Little Green and Gold Book, and a strong social media programme to promote available roles and answer queries from potential workers.
“We want prospective workers to have access to everything they need to help them decide to come and work for us,” says Johnson.
“That includes guidance on the roles available, timings, pay rates, working conditions and workers’ rights, health and safety, accommodation options and leisure possibilities in the various kiwifruit-growing regions.”
NZKGI is emphasising the importance of choosing an accredited and reputable employer.
“Our guide tells them exactly what they should expect of their employer,” Johnson says.