With the 2017 kiwifruit harvest poised to begin, the industry is once again facing a labour shortage, especially for night shift and weekend work.
“Harvest is the busiest time of year for the industry and we need many workers to assist in getting the fruit both picked and packed. However the hardest jobs to fill are our night shift and weekend work,” says New Zealand Kiwifruit Grower Inc. chief executive Nikki Johnson.
“The kiwifruit industry faces a labour shortage every year and this year is no different.”
The focus is on employing local people and NZKGI is involved in a range of short and long term initiatives to attract workers to the industry, she says.
RSE workers – those employed under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme – are important to the kiwifruit industry. These workers, many from the Pacific Islands, fill the roles which are difficult to fill with local employees such as weekend and night shift work.
“This year an increase in the RSE cap was provided for by the Government in response to a study showing the deficit of available workers for the industry.
“Nevertheless, our core workforce is based around employing New Zealanders. We will continue to work with Government agencies on the RSE programme to meet the industry's growing need for labour.”
The Government has increased the number of workers under the RSE scheme to 10,500 for the 2016-17 season.
The scheme which celebrates 10 years this year, gives horticulture and viticulture a critical workforce at their busiest times, while allowing workers from mostly the Pacific Islands to gain experience and the chance to send money back to their communities at home.
However, with the kiwifruit industry aiming to more than double sales to $4.5 billion by 2025 more skilled people are required.
Nikki says NZKGI is working to meet that need through a number of initiatives.
“These include raising the profile of the industry with secondary students and explaining the wide range of opportunities the industry makes available to them.”
NZKGI is working with WINZ to place unemployed people in seasonal and long term work. “This includes the pipeline project where we work with WINZ to transition unemployed people into full time work in the kiwifruit industry.”
Promoting good labour practice within the industry and the importance of looking after workers is another focus, as is the development of tertiary training to train people and keep them within the industry, providing them a career path.
The kiwifruit industry employs around 18,000 people across the season and generated nearly $2 billion in sales last season.
The horticulture and viticulture industry is New Zealand's fourth largest export industry and aims to increase exports to $10 billion by 2020.