No change in seasonal worker shortage

A billboard in Great King St, Dunedin, advertising the Work the Seasons scheme which was first...
A billboard in Great King St, Dunedin, advertising the Work the Seasons scheme which was first introduced in 2018, before Covid-19. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Despite lobbying the Government for more action in recruiting workers to the horticulture and viticulture sectors, there is little movement on Central Otago’s orchards and vineyards.

Alexandra-based industry recruiter Seasonal Solutions chief executive Helen Axby put the situation bluntly.

"Nothing has changed."

Seasonal work shortages, an annual problem, have become a crisis due to border closures because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I think everyone who is involved have been putting the case to [Government] ministers — industry groups, ourselves, and individual growers.

"We are working with a number of agencies including MSD [the Ministry of Social Development]."

Although recruiters continued to work closely with MSD to fill gaps with New Zealand workers, there remained an acute shortage, Ms Axby said.

"What we are actually lacking to do is to replace our usual cohort of backpackers on working holiday visas. It’s gone from 70,000 to somewhere in the region of 11,000.

"It is filling the gap left by backpackers that is the critical factor."

To address this, Seasonal Solutions was targeting students at university campuses nationwide, and having a presence at events to try to entice would-be workers to Central Otago’s vineyards and orchards.

That was in tandem with other recruitment measures such as MSD’s Work the Seasons.

The sectors were also feeling the loss of recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme workers, only 120 of them remaining in the district, Ms Axby said.

"They will be sorely missed because they are skilled. I think there is a level of resignation among the growers that to do the actual harvest they will have to get through that without the RSE workers."

That left agencies such MSD to find solutions.

MSD’s Work the Seasons website was established in 2018 and was designed to make it easier for seasonal workers to find the job and for employers to find the right person.

The website was a partnership between MSD and Auckland technology company Joy Business Academy (JBA).

JBA chief executive James Coddington said it built and maintained the site for MSD and referred all questions to the ministry.

An MSD spokesman said it was working on a response to allay the concerns of growers.



The government does not seem to care. It says kiwis can pick fruit/vege- they can but they will not tend to- it makes no sense for them $$ wise to leave the comfort of their homes (some state provided) and their earnings (benefits) and actually work. Getting paid to to hang out instead of working- hey- why not. Politicians have shown the way. Consequences: fewer exports, increased prices for us at the supermarket as fruit/veg rots in the fields/orchards, bankruptcy and bad debts for banks.

The narrative from Horticulture in this story is that it can only function if it pays people the min wage (or less effectively). The bulk of the complaining seems to be coming from conglomerate groups that have most likely stamped out independant growers and producers that might have provided some resilience in this.

We often hear that people in business want less govt interference, but this is a situation of their own making, and by the sounds of it, they were aware long before COVID was an issue - and they still did nothing. The "invisible hand of the market" is in action here, and usually this is used to justify a beatup up on wages and conditions for workers, and prices to consumers. Now they're at the receiving end of it and it's suddenly not fair.

Horticulture produces earnings in the BILLIONS. If there's a scandal happening here it's not that people wont work for crap pay, it's that we have an industry that basically can only run on slavery. Let it fail.

Exactly. Their lack of planning is not the taxpayers problem.
They should dip their hands in their pockets and make the job worth the while of NZers to apply for. A livable wage and decent working conditions.