Pacific Labour Bubble Sought by Kiwi Growers

Richard Pentreath, president of Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers' Association

Warning that more than 3 million cartons of fruit will go to waste, fruit growers are desperately seeking a Pacific bubble for workers.

Weeks before pruning starts, apple and pear orchards have large blocks of fruit still sitting on trees in the Hawkes Bay.

“It looks a bit depressing,” expressed NZ Apples and Pears chief executive, Allan Pollard.

Typically, 14,400 workers come to New Zealand as part of the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme. This year, the first of 2000 RSE workers entered managed isolation in January, bumping the available workforce to just 7000.

The government has announced further border exemptions for 2400 workers to enter between June 2021 and March 2022, however, only 150 workers will be able to enter the country every 16 days.

Pollard says growers have been working hard to get their workers through MIQ allocations.

“It’s a huge load of work for employers to give Immigration NZ all the names of workers they want to bring back. I had three full-time staff administering this for the cohort of workers in January.”

In addition to this, employers foot the bill for their workers’ MIQ stay about $5500 and must also pay them the living wage, $22.10 an hour for a minimum of 30 hours per week, while in isolation.

Pollard fears by March 2022, more RSE workers will be leaving than coming into the country under the current allocations.

“2400 MIQ allocations over 10 months is not enough by a long shot,” he said.

Richard Pentreath, president of Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers' Association, noted that the industry couldn’t survive another year like this.

“Jacinda made it very clear the horticulture industry will pull us out from Covid but we've not seen that support to back us.”

Fruit pickers are also being enticed to Australia by good money and opportunities, as of the beginning of the month Australia has let more than 7000 workers under its seasonal work scheme through its borders from Pacific Island nations.