Appeal to use MIQ vacancies for workers

 Tim Cadogan. Photo: ODT files
Tim Cadogan. Photo: ODT files
An Otago mayor is urging the Government to allow more overseas seasonal workers to take advantage of a surprise increase in the number of spaces in managed isolation.

Hundreds of managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) vouchers have become free for April and border facilities have not had this level of vacancies since October last year.

Except for travellers cancelling their reservations, no vacancies were expected until June.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said the vacancies should be used to bring in Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme workers to help for the desperate need for labour in the areas horticulture sector.

Mr Cadogan has written urgently to the Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi and the Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor pleading for increased numbers of RSE workers.

"I have recently seen growers brought to tears by their fear and frustration for the apple-picking season ahead."

Mr Cadogan said he was not suggesting RSE workers queue-jump, but if beds were not being picked up by New Zealanders, they should instead be utilised for urgently needed workforce.

Central Otago orchard and vineyard owners have said the lack of seasonal workers from the Pacific had begun to bite and locally sourced workers were not up to standard.

A MIQ spokesman said capacity in the next fortnight was forecast to fall as low as 3500 rooms, about 1000 lower than the system's operational capacity.

Mr Cadogan said the sudden emergence of vacancies might be a "godsend" at a moment when the labour shortage in Central Otago continued to be an urgent problem for the horticulture industry.

"I cannot foresee hundreds of overseas New Zealanders being able to take advantage of these rooms at such short notice".

"Can you please ensure that these vacant rooms do not go to waste and are urgently secured for RSE workers if demand is not forthcoming form expat New Zealanders."

The Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi said current Covid-19 restrictions were likely to mean any further numbers of RSE workers into the country were likely to be very limited. 

He had regular meetings with horticulture and wine sector representatives who reiterated the challenges they faced with the restricted numbers of RSE workers who had been available for harvests and winter pruning.

However while officials would continue to look at what options might be available to see if further workers could be brought in, current Covid-19 constraints, which included difficulties in workers being able to get home again, ‘‘mean any further RSE numbers are likely to be very limited’’, Mr Faafoi said.

Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor was not able to respond last night.

New government figures are forecast to show at least one in 10 managed isolation rooms has been allocated to overseas critical workers since January.

- Additional reporting RNZ

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