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Hort/Viticulture Seasonal Labour Strategy Launch

Horticulture/Viticulture Seasonal Labour Strategy Launch

Meeting the seasonal labour needs for New Zealand’s fruit, winegrape and vegetable crops is a key aim of a strategy launched by Government and the industry today.

Horticulture and Viticulture are vital for New Zealand with exports at more than $2 billion a year, as well as providing produce needed for the internal market.

Recent expansion of New Zealand’s orchards and vineyards, requires increasing numbers of seasonal labourers – at a time when low unemployment has meant a drop in local labour supplies.

A working group of industry, union and government representatives has developed the strategy over the past 12 months, which involves innovative changes in both government policy and industry practice.

Co-Chair of the group, Peter Silcock, says that as well as overcoming immediate labour shortages, the strategy addresses long-term productivity and labour supply issues. The Chief Executive of Horticulture New Zealand, Mr Silcock says the strategy includes initiative such as a ‘PickNZ’ harvest trail. A national website is planned to provide New Zealanders and visitors on working holidays with information about available work in various regions. Pickers, pruners, packers and other seasonal labour will be able to readily organise ongoing work with different crops throughout the country – from apples in the Hawkes Bay, to kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty, and grapes in Marlborough.

The formation of contractor associations and strategies to reward and retain staff are other initiatives planned. To increase training and productivity industry organisations and local grower groups will work closely with the Tertiary Education Commission, and Industry Training Organisations. The New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporation is leading the way with the development of industry qualifications in association with the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. This Kiwifruit Cadet Programme encourages workers to consider long-term careers in the industry.

Peter Silcock says the strategy Governance Group realises a mix of labour sources is needed - New Zealand-only labour will not satisfy seasonal demands.

He says many of the initiatives encompassed in the strategy have already been started, though coordination across the regions is needed. A national coordinator has been appointed to integrate regional initiatives, and develop national ones such as the Contractor Registration Programme. It is estimated that more than half of the industries’ labour is supplied through contractors, who also supervise staff on the property. The programme will help contractors access government services and comply with government regulations.

Other innovations are already underway, including one-stop-labour shops in regions such as Central Otago, and in the Hawkes Bay where the PickNZ concept has been successfully piloted. The concept includes extensive marketing, and close liaison with immigration and tax officials.

Similar work is being done by Seasonal Solutions Central Otago Ltd - a limited liability company owned by a trust, which will eventually be transferred into grower ownership and become self-sustaining. The trust, initially sponsored by Work and Income, serves orchards and vineyards by providing labour. It helps overcome obstacles for potential labour, such as accommodation and transport difficulties. Seasonal Solutions also provides a ‘one-stop-shop’ for visitors needing, for example, variations of conditions on their work permits, or tax information.

Mr Silcock says the Governance Group knows there will continue to be areas where labour shortages are critical – such as Marlborough, the Hawkes Bay, Te Puke, Queenstown, Alexandra and Kerikeri. However this medium to long-term strategy provides a framework for industry and government to continue working together to achieve sustainability and further growth, he says.

ENDS

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