Orchard staff may head west

Helen Axby. Photo: ODT files.
Helen Axby. Photo: ODT files.
The lure of a transtasman bubble and a reinvigorated hospitality sector may lead backpackers away from Central Otago orchards and vineyards, industry leaders warn.

For a sector already faced with critical labour shortages, the consequences of that could be dire if the long-awaited travel bubble opens as scheduled on Monday.

With hopes of recognised seasonal employer workers from the Pacific being allowed into New Zealand in time to complete the 2020-21 season evaporating, the loss of backpackers before the season was complete would strike another blow.

Seasonal Solutions chief executive Helen Axby said the loss of backpackers to the warmer climes of Australia was a real possibility.

Coupled with that would be increased demand from the tourism sector, which could draw backpackers out of Central Otago and into the Queenstown Lakes District.

"A reboot of tourism and hospitality activities could prove tempting.

"I mean, I am looking at the rain out my window now and thinking, who would want to be picking apples when they could be serving coffee?"

Winter was approaching, and the lustre of working outside was wearing off.

As a result, an already stretched labour force for the horticulture sector would only be spread thinner, Ms Axby said.

Grape Vision owner and Central Otago Winegrowers Association past-president James Dicey echoed her sentiments.

"I have heard of the backpackers on my crew talking about exactly that and going to Australia because they’ve been here for a year — one arrived two days before lockdown."

While the bubble could mean backpackers leaving for Australia, he hoped it could mean two-way traffic, and backpackers marooned across the Tasman coming to New Zealand.

"I like to think there’s a lot of backpackers in Australia that would be keen to come here."

His biggest concern lay with Queenstown.

"Most Aussies go to Queenstown and it will be opening up a lot more, so the biggest risk is the hospitality industry in Queenstown," Mr Dicey said.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan had been pushing for MIQ beds to be opened for more recognised seasonal employer workers late last month, but had found the Government's silence frustrating.

"It is quite disappointing that I've not had any response and my plan was to wait and see what the Government said but it hasn't worked out all that well," he said.

The situation continued to be critical, Mr Cadogan said.

"The situation here now is that it's not a matter of whether we are going to have money rot on the ground, it's a question of how much we are going to lose of a crop that is ready to be picked, packed, turned into wine or whatever and sent overseas to make the country money."

— Additional reporting RNZ



Have these guys learned nothing from the last 13 months?
They've spent the last year bemoaning the fact that their cheap unskilled transient labour was locked out because of restriction of international travel, attempts to pressure the govt to give them exemptions to organinse even cheaper unskilled pacific island labour have fallen flat and now the few transient backpackers that were trapped here because of travel restrictions are planning on escaping in the travel bubble.
It seems they've done nothing to cultivate the recruitment of some of NZ's 140,000 unemployed in the meantime, no incentives offered, no training schemes, no promotional campaigns. Just still moaning with strong undertones of "bail us out, please bail us out".
Give me a break.

Supply and demand, That's what we are told when they justifiy the high prices we pay in NZ for a range of products, or when paying wages at the top. And yet the same seems to be ignored at the bottom. It seems they would rather lose the 100s millions of dollars and blame the govt rather than actually raise wages and/or conditions of employment enough to attract the supply of labor required.
They constantly moan of unskilled workers and yet in the last year of moaning have run no courses to teach and upskill local workers, some have even been caught ignoring applications saying "don't have the time to go through them" etc.
And I see another farm is being converted in central otago requiring another 500 staff with further expansion planned. What have they done to ensure the can get and house staff in an area already short on accomadtion or are they just going to blame the govt too? Industry's like this and the recent ski field operator stories etc recently just show the lack of planning , training and Upskilling of local workers in preference to a 'lets hope for a miracle and blame the govt if it doesn't happen'.
Markets forces, the ideology that applies unless it means less pro

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