Picking staff issue takes too much time

Helen Axby
Helen Axby
Central Otago’s horticulture and viticulture sectors say there is room for improvement when it comes to recruitment — and it is due to juggling work demands with recruitment.

They said they did not have time to respond to every application because, faced with a dearth of workers, juggling work with processing applications was too much.

"We can’t be online all the time" was the general reaction to New Zealanders who claimed they had applied and got no response.

The sector is worth $50million to the region’s economy with representatives saying they still faced labour shortfalls — and massive costs.

Alexandra-based Seasonal Solutions chief executive Helen Axby said there was a disconnect with how the work was perceived and getting people to fill the jobs.

"It is about timing and location. There’s a lot of work in the Teviot Valley but it is about people who are registered for work and filling roles when they are needed.

"There’s still some inconsistency there."

Mostly employers were too busy managing their crops to carry out effective recruitment, she said.

This comes after the Government announced it would allow up to 2000 Registered Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme seasonal workers into New Zealand from Pacific Island nations from January.

Those workers have to spend two weeks in managed isolation — paid by their employers at a cost of $4722 per person — and get the living wage of $22.10 per hour.

How those workers would be distributed was still a question, Ms Axby said.

"There are thousands of people needed and it is just starting."

Grape Vision Ltd general manager James Dicey said the issue was the fact both horticulture and viticulture were perceived as unskilled.

"What’s actually being said is the jobs are skilled and are productive."

To bring a "newbie" up to par with someone who had done the job, like RSE workers, took time, he said.

The RSE workers were deemed to be skilled and that put them above inexperienced New Zealand workers.

"The connection has to be made between people who are actually skilled and those who aren’t."

Experience counted for a lot with the harvesting work.

He had refused employment to one person who wanted a week’s work on the basis that person would not have learned enough to be productive in that time.

Ettrick orchardist and packhouse owner Con van der Voort said he believed the Government was to blame for the situation.

"They [the Government] are just playing with things.

"If their aim is to destroy the [horticulture] industry they are going the right way about it," Mr van der Voort said.

He echoed the sentiments of others and said his employees were "learners" and could not compete with skilled labour such as RSE workers.

Sunfruit Syndicate Limited Partnership shareholder Tim Paulin said he recognised the problem in applications and when those people were actually needed.

"We’ve had lots of people apply and we are doing our best."

Finding time to process applications and fill positions when they were needed was a challenge, he said.



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So they have had months since the borders closed to recruit and train people to prepare for this season but they would rather blame the government. And according to the various articles in others words , not willing to train people , not willing to put time into recruiting the employees they need , not willing to provide the renumeration packages required to entice workers etc etc . Months of 'we won't be able to pick our fruit' and then we find that they won't even put the required effort into the applications to pick their fruit. I would think if they don't have time to deal with the applications then the cost of an employment manager or agency would be peanuts compared to the lost harvest income they keep going on about, but then do nothing about.
I'm surprised they aren't expecting the government to provide them with pre-picked fruit to sell.
Is there any other business that can be successful while not doing these things ?

What archaic attitudes. It is nothing but common decency and part of managing business to attend to the staff or potential requests. This tendency of horticulture to think staff - people - are a nuisance to business when they are an integral part of it. Set up email systems to respond, employ a person to admin to response. Realise that it is part of horticulture to be attending to all requirements of the season. Horticulturalist can attend to ordering packaging, sprays, machine repairs, setting up the packing sheds but staff "oh we are too busy". Staff are fundamental to horticulture get to realise that and stop whinging about them.

So untrue. I work in that industry - they earn heaps!! All they need to do is hire someone if they dont PERSONALLY have the time - it wouldnt make a huge dent in their earnings and theyd be employing local kiwis to HELP local kiwis. Too used to exploitation and wanting bigger profit margins!!!
I am lucky to work for a good contractor, I proposed looking into a "māma" shift, there are plenty of "unemployed" reliable mums (and dads) at home who are keen to help but need flexibility for schooling hours. A shift was created and huge local interest has provided ALOT of available workers to the industry. The shift is 9.15 - 2.15 and gets the bulk done quick and fast when most needed. This is the answer - it ticks ALL the boxes and it WORKS - Gizzy

The bottom line is, they want their imported, experienced staff only. It's too difficult for them to train new staff and the government's at fault because they can't get the overseas staff in the numbers they want.

Other businesses have had to adapt to the restrictions caused by the pandemic, so should the horticulture business. It's not like they didn't now this was an issue many months ago.

No sympathy for the growers here. They've been subsidised by cheaper imported workers for years and they don't even pay the living wage to those "skilled" imports. I guess the Government IS to blame ... for allowing an entire industry to leverage off the cheaper cost of living in Pacific Islands and pocket the difference. Furthermore, if finding workers is such a problem, why have orchardists not joined forces to recruit? I've seen no ads for workers in our local paper, no "all hands to the decks" requests, no innovative approaches to getting pickers where they're needed. This is an industry that now seems to be wanting a nanny state to fix a mess they've had plenty of time to clean up before now.

This group of employers are a drain on our economy. They add practically nothing but have their greedy hands out grabbing at everything they can get.
This argument that they are bringing in skilled workers because NZers don't have the skills is an absolute nonsense. I've done handpicking of a variety of fruit and vegies, training was was a 15-minute exercise and you were fully competent. A slow learner might take a half hour max. Training for some of the machines may take a bit longer, some of the tractor powered implements may take a little longer and indeed may require h&s certification, like a forklift operator. But you can guarantee none of the Pacific Islanders coming in will have this certification... But even so it is a stretch to call these machine operators skilled workers. A person of average intelligence can become competent at any of the machines you'd find in an orchard or fruit pack house in half a day.
As to being too busy to do the work needed to get staff, well... others have commented on this and how ridiculous is sounds. It seems fairly clear that Seasonal Solutions didn't put much work into recruiting Axleby!

Ouch, and axes being ground.

Wrt to training - you may not have noticed but the winter cherry season was very light with little opportunity to train unemployed from the coastal cities ... who likely felt the south too cold anyway.
It may take 15 minutes to show someone how to pick cherries, but likely it is a week before the speed and dexterity to move off wages is developed. On wages means almost certainly not covering costs.
It might surprise you that farmers have a lot of tasks to do, and many of these tasks don't fit with being on call for perhaps a single phone call a day.
Those I've spoken with, family and friends, indicate that about one year in three or four they make money ... the crop is good, it comes off the trees, and it hits Chinese New Year. Other years they hope to cover costs, but often don't.

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