Views differ on cap for RSE scheme

While those in the horticulture and viticulture industries are asking for the 8000-person cap on seasonal Pacific Island workers allowed into New Zealand to be raised, that may not happen soon.

Growers from throughout the country have said workers were scarce this past season, but numbers could be even worse in the coming season. Without security of staff, the industry could not grow.

Under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, growers can hire seasonal employees from the Pacific Islands, but only if there are no available New Zealanders to do the work.

Earlier this week Pipfruit New Zealand director and Teviot Valley orchardist Stephen Darling said in order for growers to expand their operations, the RSE scheme needed to be expanded.

''We are very, very dependent on the RSE workers scheme and if we are going to expand the industry in Central Otago we need to expand the RSE scheme ... New Zealanders' jobs are absolutely dependent on it,'' he said.

When the scheme came into effect in 2007, it had a cap of 5000 but that was expanded to 8000 in 2009. The Minister of Immigration, Michael Woodhouse, can review that cap depending on the New Zealand labour market.

''Any decision to change the cap would be made in consultation with industry groups and interested parties by the Minister of Immigration. However, no such consultation is currently being undertaken,'' Mr Wood-house said.

Horticulture New Zealand spokeswoman Leigh Catley said it was not a case of formal consultation but more of a constant process.

Over the six years the RSE scheme had been going, the group had developed good relationships with the relevant government departments and those departments were therefore well informed about the labour situation.

Mr Woodhouse said predicted staff shortages were taken into account when approving RSE visas but there was always a ''New Zealanders first'' policy when it came to jobs.

''This Government has always taken the view that we should demonstrate a duty of care for New Zealanders first. As such, the number of available RSE places varies each year depending on the forecast of New Zealanders available and industry demand.''

Ms Catley said there were three groups of people who worked in the industry - New Zealanders, RSE workers and tourists or backpackers.

''If it gets to the point that there's just not enough of one of the three groups, then there's some tension.''

She said the horticulture industry supported the New Zealanders-first policy but a lack of backpackers was creating a hole in the labour market.

Seasonal Solutions is a co-operative that was set up in 2004 to help address labour shortages in the industry. It puts growers in touch with those wanting seasonal work. Manager Craig Howard said that, traditionally, the Central Otago horticulture and viticulture industries had relied heavily on backpackers to bulk up their labour force but those tourists were not appearing in the same numbers as they used to.

In the 2012-13 season, 8175 RSE visas were approved but the number of actual arrivals for the year was 7456. Most came from the Pacific Islands.

Ms Catley said the horticulture industry employed 50,000 people nationally and despite the global recession, it was still a growth industry, particularly since the RSE scheme had been put in place.


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