“Going into lockdown we were all thinking that we wouldn’t have jobs,” says Valli’s owner and winemaker Grant Taylor.
Results of a labour survey for Central Otago’s viticulture and horticulture industries just released predicts a shortfall of nearly 2300 seasonal workers’ beds across both sectors in the next four to five years, despite “considerable investment being made by growers and others in developing accommodation.”
The 2018 survey was undertaken on behalf of the Central Otago Labour Market Governance Group, by Druce Consulting, updating one undertaken three years ago.
A 14 percent increase in grape plantings, or an additional 284 hectares will bring the Central Otago vineyard estate to 2275 hectares.
However, total orchard plantings will overtake grape plantings during the next four to five years.
Central Otago relies heavily on Recognised Seasonal Employers scheme (RSE) workers and the transient backpacker population for seasonal work.
The survey has highlighted widespread concern that the region will be unable to accommodate seasonal workers over peak demand periods like harvest, mostly due to the reduction in commercial campgrounds, and expected restrictions on freedom camping. It calls for urgent action to find solutions.
It recommends a raise in the RSE cap, more flexibility and simplification in the Essential Skills visa category to make it easier for employers to fill gaps, and looking at how to attract a greater number of working holiday visa holders given increasing competition from other sectors.
“As labour challenges intensify, providing attractive employment conditions and affordable accommodation for workers is going to be the key to securing workers in the future. This will require strong concerted action by the growers, stakeholder groups and local and central government, supported by the Central Otago Labour Market Governance Group.”
Some of the needed ‘beds’ may need to be supplied as camping capacity rather than fixed accommodation, says Tara Druce, of Druce Consulting.