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Rick Barker Speech - Fruit Growers Awards Night

Hon Rick Barker Speech

Fruit Growers Awards Night & display of Delivery: 7pm Port of Napier

Thank you for inviting me to speak this evening. It is exciting to see so many cadets completing their horticultural training and others getting their first year scholarships.

Congratulations to all. You are entering an evolving industry with an exciting future. There are many opportunities in this industry. It was previously an industry with owner growers, but with the recent changes to the structure of the industry there has been a significant increase in corporate growers.

My experience of talking to seasonal industries across New Zealand has left me with an overriding impression that there is an acute shortage of middle management people. You have picked a good time to get involved in the horticulture industry.

Congratulations also to the Horticultural Industry Training Organisation along with the Eastern Institute of Technology who are models of what can be achieved with industry training partnerships. This is proving to be a very successful horticultural cadet scheme.

Partnerships are what it is all about in Hawke's Bay. The communication and trust developing between growers and with Work and Income and the development of 'best practice' within the industry is coming along in leaps and bounds.

And now we have this great new tool the 'PickNZ website, proudly home-grown in Hawke's Bay. Not only is it full of information for job seekers, but already it's linking up the industry who are emailing each other with snippets of information instantly. It's like the old style phone down on the farm - the fast wires and ears of those on the party line. The information is going out like hot cakes. Already there have been over a million clicks on the site: That's about 800,000 people who've logged-on!

Although this is a pilot project, already the kiwifruit industry and the citrus growers are looking at how they can get a website like this. As the Associate Minister for Work and Income I am proud to say that the department came on board with this early on and helped make it happen by supporting its creation and promotion.

But this level of communication and established trust is actually fairly new. Historically there has been a rather ad hoc approach to dealing with the expanding number of seasonal work opportunities and an increasing tension between the need for staff, contractors and immigration and an underlying frustration and concern that entire crops might not get harvested.

I feel today we are a good way down the road towards sustainable staffing, good employer practices and bumper crops.

Work and Income have mobile field workers in the premises of the Horticulture Association or based at their offices throughout the country. They are building regional relationships with the industry so that they know the real and unique needs of the season . Work and income are getting people off the benefit and into jobs. No-one likes people getting a benefit who could be working. And the vast majority of people without jobs want to be working.

In December I opened 'Seasonal Solutions' in Cromwell This is a 'one stop shop' for the cherry and apricot season down there. This concept is one office that offers accommodation information, Department of Labour info, Immigration assistance and Work and Income assistance all in the one place. This is the type of partnership developing in each region.

The government is working locally to help nationally. The approach is tailor made for each region. This is the nature of the industry and Work and Income are right on board. We know that there are people on the unemployment register who can fill these seasonal vacancies. The taxpayer wants them working and contrary to the image being pushed by the opposition the majority want to be working too.

Work and Income in Hawke's Bay are planning for well over two thirds of the 1800 on the unemployment register to be in seasonal work this time round. This isn't just people picking apples it is people driving fork lifts, working conveyer belts, packing boxes and doing maintenance. The medium and long-term focus is on government and industry working more closely together. And I urge industry to show good employment and recruitment practices. Workers do need decent bathrooms and a place to have lunch. It's smart to look after staff in order to keep them. This is the key to good productivity. There are long term careers in this industry. People who need jobs may have found a career for life and this is where it is of benefit to employers to try and keep their staff as they will become loyal assets. Nothing works better than an employer taking an interest in their staff.

Actually Work and Income have just sent out letters to senior citizens, that is people over 65 receiving the Super, to say, 'did you know there is seasonal work out there for you and you can do some work without having your super reduced?' And they have written to others who receive some sort of benefit to tell them about logging on to PickNZ to look for a job. I know a number of seniors who work in seasonal industries to help when its under pressure, to make some money and also to keep fit - to keep them young! Our retiries are in good shape. This brings a good opportunity for employers to get them on board as valuable assistants.

So at times of low unemployment it is a challenge for everyone to look outside the square and see what they can do: Employers to encourage their staff to stay and to employ people they perhaps wouldn't usually, and for others to take on work they may think they can't do.

I wish you all well with your endeavours and careers when you have completed your studies.

And now I believe it is time to have a closer look at this new website now so I'll hand you over to the person who knows how to navigate their way through it best. Once again, well done to those getting awards tonight and I look forward to chatting with you later in the evening.

Thank you.


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