New Zealand’s pipfruit and kiwifruit industries are scrambling to find additional labour on the eve of what looms as bumper harvests for both sectors.
Horticulture New Zealand’s national labour co-ordinator, Jerf van Beek, told Radio New Zealand that growers across the country’s key horticultural sectors could be up to 2,000 season workers short this season.
“From a pipfruit and kiwifruit and wine point of view, it's very exciting - but at the same time it's a daunting task and a big mountain to climb to bring all that harvest into the coolstores, into the packhouses and actually get them exported overseas. It's a large crop of very good quality,” van Beek explained.
The labour shortage has been compounded by complications with the arrival of Recognised Seasonal Employee (RSE) scheme workers from Vanuatu. A number of flights from the Pacific Islands nation have been cancelled due to issues with the runway at Port Villa, although growers are hopeful all RSE workers will arrive in time for harvest.
“All our numbers are going to be here as long as Air Vanuatu don't pull out of the flights, but at this stage it's looking good. But we're always looking for more people,” Crasborn Fresh Harvest’s head of human resources, Ross Howard, told Radio New Zealand.
The full extent of the shortage is likely to become more apparent as harvests begin to ramp-up, according to van Beek.
"The problem with it is, we have plenty of people who put their name down but they might put their name down with four different packhouses or four different orchards,” he said. "And then when the harvest or the packing starts, they can only fill one of those positions - so the worker that you thought you had on your books starting on say Monday the 24th is no longer there any more, because he's actually taken the job somewhere else."