Labour shortage solutions needed

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
Issues involving labour loom large this Labour Day.

While many will be enjoying the public holiday, named to commemorate the struggle for the eight-hour working day, and first held in 1900, for others this year the day will be accompanied by much uncertainty.

Many will have lost jobs or be worried about losing them in the near future, while some employers are concerned about how they are going to fill jobs that would usually have been occupied by overseas employees.

Concerns raised by those in the horticulture, viticulture and tourism industry about the difficulties they are having filling vacancies highlight the fragility, and some might say folly, of relying on using cheap overseas labour — workers who may have been prepared in some, but not all cases, to put up with accommodation and conditions New Zealanders would find unacceptable.

In horticulture, as the situation stands now, 8000 Pacific Island workers who would be expected to come in under the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme (RSE) and about 57,000 backpackers who travel around the country picking fruit and carrying out other work in the fruit industry will be missing. There are some RSE workers and backpackers already here but, according to RNZ reporting, their numbers will total 18,700 by the end of the year, well short of usual numbers.

The frustration of those in Central Otago’s viticulture and horticulture industry over the Government allowing fishermen from Covid-ravaged countries to come into New Zealand ahead of RSE workers from Covid-free countries in the Pacific is understandable.

Up until now, the lobbying to allow the RSE workers in has not borne fruit, presumably because the Government believes there are enough New Zealanders who could do the work.

That may well be true, but getting them on site is more complicated. Better pay might help, but it is not necessarily the complete answer.

Many of those who would be capable of the work will live a long way away from the vineyards and orchards and may be locked in to paying rent where they are. Moving to Central Otago for a short time to work, often for around the minimum wage, and possibly pay for more accommodation, hardly sounds attractive.

A similar situation applies in Queenstown where the hospitality industry is finding it hard to fill vacancies. The past paucity of affordable accommodation and stories of workers having to "hot bed" will not have helped.

A comprehensive and innovative approach to the issues will be needed in the short term, along with better long-term planning to ensure sustainability.

Given the downturn in overseas tourism in the Covid-19 climate, is there room for some inventive accommodation options making the most of surplus beds to use for workers in these industries?

It has also been suggested that members of the grey brigade, particularly those who have their own motorhomes, should be encouraged to join the workforce.

We would also hope more parents will be gently pushing secondary school pupils and tertiary students to go fruit-picking over summer, something which has often been regarded as a rite of passage.

Central Otago mayor Tim Cadogan, who plans to roll up his sleeves and pitch in with orchard work himself over the summer break, is encouraging locals to put up family members or friends in the spare room so they can join in too.

What part the new Government may play in helping to resolve the immediate issues is not yet clear.

In the meantime, every little helps.

 

Comments

A call very like 'Spirit of The Blitz'. All hands.

Welcome to the free market.
This is a simple supply and demand situation. Familiar to anyone who has studied a high school economics class. As the supply of a commodity dries up or the demand increases the price goes up. As true for labour as it is for cherries.
If the industry pays decent wages and provides civilized working conditions and the Govt stops penalising unemployed workers who take on short term work then the problem will largely be solved.
Try taking a little personal responsibility for your problems, think hard about what a fair return for your investment might be, lower your expectations and stop relying on the taxpayer to solve your problems.

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