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Kiwifruit sector front-foots campaign to find pickers

The kiwifruit industry is pulling out all the stops to make sure the 2019 harvest, which starts mid-March, isn’t short of workers – ensuring that quality Zespri kiwifruit is sent to overseas customers in premium condition.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) Chief Executive Officer Nikki Johnson says the amount of green and gold kiwifruit on the vines is forecast to be even higher than last year’s harvest, meaning around 18,000 workers will be needed. “Last year, the harvest was at least 1,200 workers short at the peak – we don’t want a repeat of that.”

To promote seasonal jobs in kiwifruit, Johnson says NZKGI is running a broad labour recruitment campaign, targeting local students, unemployed kiwis, retirees and backpackers, to show them what the industry can offer and address any misconceptions about the work.

“While we want to employ local kiwis as a first priority, we’re casting the net far and wide to attract as many seasonal workers as possible,” she says. “There is a workforce out there that we think would be great in our industry; we just have to tell them about it and let them know what’s in it for them.”

Johnson says the campaign will promote kiwifruit work opportunities through a major social media campaign to reach potential workers, using Facebook to connect with job-seekers through the recently launched Kiwifruit Jobs NZ page. “We’ll also be sharing great content with potential employees, including a video of German and Czech backpackers sharing their orchard experiences, and a short but fact-packed guide to working in the sector - the Little Green and Gold Book.”

She says the industry needs large numbers of workers over a relatively short timeframe from late March through June for harvesting fruit. “But there’s also a large number of workers needed in the packhouses in a wide range of processing roles, as the fruit leaves the orchards to be prepared for distribution overseas.”

Johnson says that a lot of incorrect information exists about working with kiwifruit making it harder to recruit people who would otherwise get a lot out of seasonal work. “That includes the pay rates – they are actually very competitive. We will highlight the facts about kiwifruit work through our campaign to rectify myths.”

Johnson says kiwifruit work is an excellent option for backpackers looking to earn money while they travel and sightsee. “A lot of kiwifruit orchards are located very close to some of New Zealand’s best tourist attractions and hotspots.”

The wide range of kiwifruit roles and worksites throughout New Zealand also makes work in the industry a good option for locals, she says, and the campaign will also be connecting with retiree, sports, education and community organisations to explore partnerships to add to the pool of workers available.

“We’ll be emphasising the long-term and permanent career roles available, as well – kiwifruit seasonal work spans up to 48 weeks in the year. As New Zealand’s largest horticultural earner, it’d be great to see more kiwis reaching out to their local kiwifruit employers and discussing potential career pathways that may be on offer.”

Johnson says the campaign was also an appeal to kiwis to support the sector as a major contributor to the New Zealand economy. “By 2027 we’re expecting to require around 22,000 workers, as the volume of fruit grown increases dramatically.

“We’d love to see strong support from New Zealanders, this year and into the future so this valuable export product continues to shine as a small part of New Zealand in premium export markets.”

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