Faafoi not saying how many RSE workers were sought by employers

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi on his way into the House for Question Time, Parliament. Photo:...
Kris Faafoi. Photo: NZ Herald
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi will not be drawn on whether the horticulture and viticulture industry pushed for overseas workers to be allowed into New Zealand rather than employ Kiwis.

While the Government has capped the number of recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme workers allowed back into New Zealand at up to 2000, the Otago Daily Times understands the number the industry lobbied for was much higher.

Mr Faafoi did not confirm that yesterday nor did he weigh in on criticism of orchardists and viticulturists being over-reliant on RSE workers.

Instead, he said experienced RSE workers would not start arriving New Zealand until January, in time for the 2021 summer harvest season and there were variables at play, including when produce was ready for harvest.

The industry in Central Otago has also faced criticism for the way it was handling job applications from Kiwis.

Speaking before a visit to Central Otago to assess the situation with Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni on Tuesday, Mr Faafoi said the Government had made clear what it expected.

"We know the industry is working to address barriers to employing more New Zealanders and we expect to see continued efforts to attract Kiwis into horticulture and wine sector work."

He believed things were working working in terms of the Government’s approach to border exceptions for various categories of workers and due to the fact so many Kiwis were putting their hands up to pick.

"The message is getting to Kiwis that there is work out there and the Government is doing what it can to help them."

Alongside Ministry of Social Development jobseeker initiatives, those from the horticulture and viticulture sectors also played a part — given there was a cap on entry for RSE workers, he said.

He was not convinced the industry had a critical workforce gap that would qualify it for a larger contingent of those workers.

"There are a number of provisions within the assessment of class exceptions which take into account local employment information."

The Government’s stance was to only allow RSE workers in at the peak of the season.

"Growers have been given the clear message that they need to look for New Zealand jobseekers first to fill the picking rosters."

Mr Faafoi’s comments follow Summerfruit NZ chief executive Richard Palmer’s response to criticism from would-be pickers.

He said the sheer volume of applications had left the industry overwhelmed, there were questions about the suitability of applicants, and RSE workers made up only a fraction of the overall workforce.

National immigration spokeswoman Erica Stanford declined to comment when contacted yesterday.

jared.morgan@odt.co.nz

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