Rural Contractors New Zealand (RCNZ) chief executive Roger Parton says while visas have been issued for these workers, by the time they are available for work, they will be three months too late.
“The current information I have is that we won’t be able to get any isolation facilities until the middle of December, which means they won’t be out of isolation until Christmas, which is absolutely nonsensical because the season’s halfway over,” he said.
“They’ve got the visas, they have got the travel booked, but they can’t get into the country because they can’t get a voucher for isolation. That’s causing a huge amount of stress out there.”
“Secondly, there will be places where we won’t be able to harvest because we won’t have the skilled operators to take the machinery up the hills.”
He understood that while the Government could bring more isolation facilities into service, there was not enough health staff to man those facilities.
The inability to source skilled and unskilled foreign workers due to border restrictions to control covid-19 has impacted NZ’s entire primary sector.
Investment, Skills and Performance director at the Ministry for Primary Industries Cheyne Gillooly says industries facing labour shortages include dairy, horticulture, viticulture, shearing, apiculture, pork, meat processing, agricultural and horticultural contracting, deep sea fishing and veterinary sectors.
Shortages range from 200 vets, 800 dairy farm workers, 1300 wine makers to thousands of fruit pickers.
Sector leaders attribute the lack of interest in primary sector jobs to lower than expected unemployment, the Government’s wage subsidy and a reluctance for those looking for work to relocate.
Central Otago District Council Mayor Tim Cardogan says a job promotion seminar in Queenstown – within commuting distance of short-staffed Central Otago orchards – attracted 600 registrations, of which only 20 were NZers.
“I can’t fathom it. If you are unemployed in Otago and Southland you should look at it as an opportunity to get your lives started again,” he said.
The Bay of Plenty kiwifruit industry is looking for 14,500 people in the coming months to prepare vines for the 2021 harvest with industry players expecting a shortage.
The dairy industry needs 800 people and signs were promising with 575 registering for the three-week DairyNZ GoDairy training courses.
Of those, 72 graduated and 35 have found employment.
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says the results reflect how tight the labour market is.
“It’s a complex issue and you can’t flick a switch,” he said.
This year’s cherry crop is headed for a record 8000 tonnes of which 6000t will be exported, but growers are concerned they may not have enough pickers.
The summerfruit harvest requires 7000 people at its peak with the subsequent kiwifruit and pip fruit harvests needing 16,000 workers.
Difficulties getting international winemakers into the country has the wine industry worried.
Wine Marlborough manager Marcus Pickens says each year 1000 highly-skilled international winemakers descend on the province to make the latest vintage, with another 300 or so going to other wine regions.
Winemakers follow the vintages around the world and Pickens says it is unknown if they are travelling due the pandemic, let alone if they can enter NZ.
The forestry industry has had some success, recruiting an extra 250 staff through a scheme run through the Ministry for Social Development.
The Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Immigration Policy manager Andrew Craig says since the Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) scheme was introduced in 2007, the cap has increased from 5000 to 14,400 people, a total that will be maintained for the coming season.
He estimates about 6100 RSE workers were unable to return to their home countries before the pandemic, and they can now stay and work in NZ for another six months.
At this stage, they will not be joined by RSE workers from outside NZ.
Changes to NZ visa conditions mean about 14,000 Working Holiday Visa holders have been granted extensions allowing them to work until June 30.
He says 600 lower-skilled visa holders, including those who work on dairy farms, have had their duration extended six months.
A further 850 temporary work visa holders who are “normally resident” here and have enduring links to NZ, can also return, and these include dairy farm managers.