Vineyards, orchards still short of workers

No shows and walkouts are dominating the hunt to find seasonal workers — particularly on vineyards — across Central Otago and the culprits are Kiwis.

Pressure is mounting on the region’s viticulture and horticulture sectors to fill the gaps left by a dearth of backpackers and Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers but finding New Zealanders willing to work is causing headaches at what was now crunch time for vineyards.

The clock was also ticking for orchards.

Misha’s Vineyard director Andy Wilkinson said the same story was echoing across the region.

"We have this consistent issue of people hired who then leave and people who get to interview stage, or start day and never show up."

He cited one particular example.

"There were eight people hired on one vineyard and on the day of the health and safety briefing two just walked off, got into their car, and drove off."

Four left soon after starting.

"Of the eight that were hired six were New Zealanders and two were French — only the French were left."

Cherry orchards were entering the fray in the battle for labour and there was an increasing pull from the hospitality industry, he said.

Wine industry discussions with the Ministry of Social Development showed a "big disconnect" in understanding the issues.

"We need people on vineyards now, they are operating on a very different timetable."

Other ministries had been dominated by inactivity due to the general election.

"They didn’t know who their ministers would be and that has led to a very lengthy period of inactivity."

Central Otago Fruitgrowers Association chairwoman Trudy Webb said the message was that a crisis was coming for orchardists.

"We are still worried there will be enough staff."

As with vineyards, it was a question of "who turns up on the day".

CAJ van der Voort post harvest manager Jackie van der Voort said it was early days for orchard work in the Teviot Valley as summerfruit thinning was under way and apple thinning to come.

"It’s very difficult to find workers and we’ve just dipped our toes in the water and it’s not a good feeling."


Of COURSE the culprits are kiwis... there aren't any other workers around. Duh!

Just last night I saw a big news item that there have been a much higher percentage of women losing their employment than men during covid and how all the available work training is apparently directed towards men. Perhaps this is the time fruit growers etc should target this female unemployment market and encourage more women into horticulture and fruit picking. Looks like a big win win situation....fruit picking vacancies filled and more women employed and learning on the job.