Contractors seek access to skilled seasonal staff

A boost to New Zealand's seasonal workforce is great for the horticulture industry, Rural Contractors New Zealand says.

It wants a similar scheme for the rural contracting sector.

The organisation has welcomed the Government's plans to encourage more Kiwis to take up seasonal work, and its decision to increase the annual Recognised Seasonal Employer cap to a total of 9000 workers.

These moves were essential in delivering the horticulture industry's forecasted future growth, RCNZ president Steve Levet said.

''There is no doubt the horticulture sector is an important and valuable part of New Zealand's economy and the Government is right to make provisions for that sector.

''However, we need similar provisions for the rural contracting sector as there is a gap between rural contractors' needs for trained, agricultural machinery operators and unemployed New Zealanders who can do this work.''

Mr Levet said the rules for employing temporary, skilled people from overseas who were prepared to work six to eight months each year should be simplified, as should regulations restricting people who have worked here in past seasons coming back again.

''Contracting is a seasonal business and one that uses sophisticated machinery that requires technical skill to operate productively,'' he said.

''Part of this shortfall is met by bringing in skilled operators from overseas.''

All political parties needed to understand that a dire shortage of suitable agricultural machinery operators meant rural contractors had for many years relied on hiring overseas people each season.

Many applicants put forward by Work and Income either did not have the right skills or attitude, Mr Levet said.

''We are talking about operating highly technical and very expensive pieces of machinery.

''It is unrealistic, unsafe and impractical to expect unemployed people to walk off the street and successfully take up these positions.

''The seasonal nature of rural contracting means workers with the right skills are needed for only a few months each year. Understandably, this kind of short-term employment does not often suit locals who are looking for full-time work.''

RCNZ would continue to work with the Government, political parties and officials to ensure local people were given the best employment opportunities, he said.

It would also lobby for rule changes that would benefit the sector.

- by Sally Brooker