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NZ System May Be The Answer To Seasonal Issues

NZ System May Be The Answer To Seasonal Issues

New Zealand company, Regional Net-Workers has filed for a provisional patent on a world-first software tool, the Seasonal Activity Manager (SAM). The company has recently completed a successful trial of the tool with a vineyard contractor in Hawke’s Bay.

SAM can locate, identify, manage and reward seasonal workers – answering significant workforce issues, including eliminating a notorious black market, in such sectors as viticulture and horticulture.

“SAM combines the technology of mobile phones, bar codes, internet and computers, creating a virtual ‘office’ for workers, contractors, property owners and Government departments,” explains Regional Net-Workers spokesperson, Dave Smith.

Smith says the system digitally records work completed and creates reports that form the basis for paying workers, and invoices property owners for a set fee.

Seasonal or episodic labour management is a major issue worldwide over a broad range of sectors and regions. The world is suffering a rural workforce crisis as the demand for food production increases and the workforce depletes.

For example, New Zealand requires 40,000 seasonal workers at the peak of the pipfruit season and, anecdotally, it’s believed there’s a shortage of 10,000 seasonal workers in the Bay of Plenty alone.

Australia, the USA and many other developed countries are dependant on a seasonal, highly responsive and mobile workforce. Today there is no methodology to accurately plan and co-ordinate this workforce.

“New Zealand can now become leaders in managing food and co-ordinating production. Workers in the SAM could be based anywhere on the planet,” explains Smith.

Regional Net-Workers is a 50/50 joint venture partnership between the Marlborough Regional Development Trust and CriticalMas of Napier. The company has been studying the dynamics of seasonal work for three years in association with all the key stakeholders from workers to senior Government policymakers.

The company estimates SAM has multi-million dollar potential in New Zealand and even greater potential worldwide. The tool is unique in using a code format to access a centralised webspace between workers and producers, with the potential to add Government and various service providers.

Workers, contractors and growers set rules that dictate how information is exchanged and shared within the webspace.

“The bar-code technology within the system gives 100% security that enables the digital data to be transmitted to and from the work site via mobile phones,” explains Smith.

He says that the worker’s digital record contains details of his or her experience, qualifications, immigration status and IRD number. It also contains a photo of the worker that can be checked on site to ensure the correct worker has turned up for work.

The system allows the contractor to communicate with his or her workers via mobile phone, offering work to individuals and matching work available with available workforce.

SAM contains enough detail for contractors to ensure their workforce complies with Government employment requirements. The system can assure contractors that an immigrant worker is not breaching any restrictions on their work permit.

This is an important benefit as anecdotal evidence points to troublesome black market activity around illegal workers, resulting in failure to account for GST and PAYE, which in turn disadvantages compliant employers who are unable to compete with rates offered by contractors not paying tax.

The incentive for workers (many being immigrants on temporary work permits) is that SAM can arm them with a record of experience and ensure they remain compliant. Along with the ability to influence or determine market rates and respond to workforce demands, workers could potentially tap into and plan year round employment.

Smith comments that the system will eventually be applicable to almost any camera phone keeping it simple, secure and affordable.

He adds that Regional Net-workers has teamed up with Nextcode Corporation USA who has developed the world’s leading digital scanning system for mobile devices.

“We use their technology to tag each object in the system – this creates a scenario where workers hold PIKs (personal information keys). Presenting a key (visual code) to a field manager enables access to specific data such as qualification records or work permits. Only those with the decoding technology can access the data – data can also contain a prefix which will only allow particular groups of users to access and edit data,” he says.

The next step for Regional Net-Workers is a full commercial release in late 2006.


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