Quarantine-free Travel From Samoa, Tonga And Vanuatu Welcomed By Apple And Pear Industry
NZ Apples and Pears Incorporated (NZAPI), the industry association representing the country's apple, pear, and nashi growers, has welcomed the government’s announcement of one-way quarantine-free travel from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, allowing the industry to bring in much needed seasonal workers in a more streamlined process.
"This decision is the result of many months of negotiations between industry and government," says NZAPI chief executive, Alan Pollard.
“We have long argued that, with the Pacific Islands largely COVID free, the idea of restricting worker movement to MIQ capacity has never made sense," says Pollard. “We fully understand why a bubble with Australia has taken preference, with New Zealanders wanting to reunite with their families and loved ones. But quarantine free travel providing the much-needed labour force to support our industries through pruning, thinning and harvest has taken on greater urgency."
Pollard says that this announcement will be significant for Pacific nations.
“The Pacific Islands have been hit hard by the impact of the pandemic, with tourism decimated and our border largely closed. Communities relying on the wages earned by RSE workers will be relieved that the opportunity for employment in our orchards will once again be available."
During the 2021 season, almost 3 million cartons of export apples and pears were lost as the labour shortage hit hard. Pollard says that with a much larger crop expected for the 2022 harvest, a different approach to accessing seasonal workers has been urgently needed.
“Growers across the country have been telling us that they cannot survive another season like 2021. This announcement shows that the government has also been concerned about the financial viability of the horticulture and viticulture sectors, and our ability to generate much needed export receipts and to protect the security of food supply for New Zealand consumers. They have listened to us, and together with us have come up with a viable alternative that satisfies both health and economic priorities."
Pollard noted that the industry bodies will work with Minister Faafoi over the next few weeks to agree the conditions upon which workers will be able to return to New Zealand, including any testing requirements.
NZAPI has been increasingly concerned about the impact of the labour crisis on the mental health and well-being of growers, their families, and their staff.
“NZAPI has partnered with MPI and Mentemia, Sir John Kirwan’s app-based mental health platform, to run a series of workshops hosted by JK focussed on understanding and responding to stress and distress. The announcement today will be welcomed by growers and will go some way toward relieving some of that stress, uncertainty and anxiety," he says.
The New Zealand apple and pear industry generated $920m in export revenue and $100m in domestic revenue in 2020. It is responsible for approximately $2.7b to $4.5b in regional economic activity and employs over 3,500 people in permanent roles across New Zealand.