Thursday, August 18, 2022

Kiwifruit sector desperate for more staff

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The kiwifruit sector is exploring new avenues for employing overseas staff as harvest season starts to reach full swing.

NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated chief executive Colin Bond recruiting staff from close to home is the industry’s first option.

The kiwifruit sector is exploring new avenues for employing overseas staff as harvest season starts to reach full swing.

With 80% of the crop still to come in kiwifruit, along with the rest of the primary sector, continues to struggle to get the staff numbers required for what is promising to be a record near 200 million tray crop this season.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) chief executive Colin Bond said good progress was being made sourcing more Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers, a source that had been impacted not only by covid restrictions, but more recently by the Tongan eruption. 

This had made communicating and liaising with potential staff in the kingdom difficult until recently.

“But we will be seeing more RSE workers starting this week, right through April, barring circumstances outside of our control,” Bond said.

“We are working with government, including MBIE, to find other sources of visa holders and constantly trying to find more people. We’re looking for Kiwis as a first priority.”

He likened it to “fishing with your feet first”, looking close to home for staff.

Prior to covid there were 19,500 people who had holiday visas issued to come to NZ who did not and who may also be potential workers on arrival.

“But for that age group life moves on pretty quickly, just because you wanted to come to NZ three years ago does not mean you will be coming now,” he said.

At present there are 4000 people with working holiday visas in NZ.

This year the sector is using Instagram for the first time, while also reinforcing its Facebook campaign and encouraging growers and packhouses to advertise what jobs they have.

“We are working on getting an understanding on who has visas and what promotional activity we can do to get the messages out to tie in with things like winter skiing holidays,” he said.

The scramble for staff comes as market prospects remain strong for fruit as the first commercial harvest of RubyRed is under way. 

Zespri head of supply Jason Te Brake acknowledged the labour challenges, but said the market prospects for all fruit were very positive and shipping via the company’s chartered vessels was flowing well.

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