'They’re not hiring Kiwis': Locals keen to pick fruit ignored, rejected

A billboard in Great King St, Dunedin, advertising the Work the Seasons scheme which was first...
A billboard in Great King St, Dunedin. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Locals say they are having applications for fruit picking jobs ignored or rejected, despite moves to allow more immigrant workers into the country.

It comes on the back of complaints from the industry there are not enough pickers.

Orchard owners and recruiters say the reason for the lack of response or failed applications may be an issue of timing, as summer fruits are only starting to be picked now.

The Government will allow up to 2000 seasonal workers to come to New Zealand from Pacific Island nations from January.

They will have to spend two weeks in managed isolation — paid for by their employers at a cost of $4722 per person — and will have to be paid the living wage of $22.10 an hour.

Orchardists with summer fruits say that influx of foreign workers is too little, too late, as some have already begun cherry picking.

They expect this season to be possibly the largest cherry harvest yet but there will be a heavily reduced worker pool due to the lack of RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) workers and backpackers.

Local people keen to work picking fruit say they have tried and failed.

A Dunedin woman, Justine, who was made redundant earlier in the year and wanted a cherry-picking job, said she applied at three orchards and was rejected or ignored.

"I get so frustrated when I keep hearing these stories how they’re desperate [for workers] and I just think it’s b... .

"I just feel like they’ve got this preconception about Kiwis and their work ethic and I think ... they’re saying they’re desperate, they’re not hiring Kiwis and then they’re trying to get people in they want to pay less."

Justine said she had given up looking for cherry-picking jobs and was looking in other sectors now.

Many others contacted the Otago Daily Times with similar complaints about their attempts to get a fruit picking job around Central Otago, though some reported having secured fruit picking jobs and "thoroughly enjoying" the experience.

Hintons Orchard owner Nigel Hinton said his organisation usually had about 90 RSE workers.

They were filling the void with high school and university students and he was surprised to hear some people were finding it hard to find jobs.

"Cherries aren’t ready yet and ... to be fair there probably isn’t a lot going at the moment.

"But in a week or 10 days I would have thought that growers would have been snaffling people, even if they’ve got to wait a week to start."

Mr Hinton said there was a clear divide between the work ethic of unemployed New Zealanders and RSE workers.

"The RSE workers come here because they want to work, they need the job and they use the money they do earn for their family in their villages back home ... it’s a totally different beast.

"Dare [I] say it ... a lot of Kiwis haven’t got any work ethic at all and they don’t want to work."

In Cromwell, 45 South chief executive Tim Jones said he was nervous they would not have enough workers for their cherry crop.

"We’ve had really good inquiry from a mixture of Kiwis and the few backpackers that are still in New Zealand.

"No-one is too sure whether the people that have applied to us have also applied for 10 or 15 other orchards in Central Otago. It’s not until day one until you truly know that."

He said 45 South usually had about 150 RSE workers from Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Samoa.

This year they would be lucky to get 30 men who were now thinning apple trees in Hawke’s Bay and may look to coming to Central Otago for the cherry harvest.

Mr Jones said New Zealanders applying and missing out may have gone too early.

"The work doesn’t start until the fruit is ready to pick and that’s not looking likely until sort of early to mid-December and I’m pretty sure from then on there will be many jobs available in the district."

He said every person who applied for a job with his organisation recieved a response.

Orchard and packhouse owner Con van der Voort, of Ettrick, said the majority of his apple thinners and pickers were from Vanuatu and "at the stroke of a pen" they were no longer available because of Covid-19 restrictions.

"We are in a serious situation ... unless we get a lot more people we won’t be able to pick our crop."

The Ministry of Social development said it had seen 1055 job applications go through its Work The Seasons website for the Southern Region.

jacob.mcsweeny@odt.co.nz

Comments

Boycott New Zealand fruit growers they're a scam!

And it seems Kiwi employers also don't want to employ people over 50 either. And not just in fruit picking!

Much the same rhetoric from the very wealthy growers in the Tasman\Nelson region.
Done my years fruit picking and no wonder it's hard to get workers. Pay was always ordinary and seemed the bigger the businesses got the lower the picking rate/wages and the worse the conditions. The big flash holiday homes popping up in the Marlborough sounds and Kaiteriteri are just an example of how the distribution of wealth is incredibly one sided. Preying on overseas cheap labour just cheapens the horticultural industry. Wouldn't recommend the work to anyone.

Over the last few months we've had to put up with Fruit and vegie growers and their Regional and National bodies bleat on about how destructive the covid 19 ban on skilled foreign workers is going to be to their industry. They also go on about how NZ workers are just not interested in doing the work.
All outright lies. The lot of it.
This is all about protecting their margins, their profits, their new cars every other year, their overseas holidays. They don't care about NZers, not one little bit. Even paying the quarantine fees and living wage to the foreign workers is cheaper than recruiting, training and paying NZers.
These people are despicable, they are not part of the team of 5 million.

I did a little digging about agriculture today - pip and stonefruits are mostly exported. We do get some seasonal produce in the shops, but that's not where growers are making their money, and we eat imported fruits out of season (Which is most of the year). Cherries are mostly exported. (Not relevant to this discussion, but most dairy is exported - only 5% of our dairy production is consumed domestically.) Most grains are produced for domestic consumption (Wheat, oats, etc) and I suspect all veges are also mostly consumed domestically and typically harvested by machine - no slave army of backpackers required for that!

Domestic prices have long been inflated by what can be gotten overseas - which is what this whole grubby saga is about. Now kiwis (not at all lazy and feckless it would seem) have called their bluff by asking for work, and have been turned away. Now I ask myself, why do I want to buy NZ grown fruit? Maybe those imported goods arn't that bad after all...

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