The Ministry of Social Development has declared a labour shortage in the Bay of Plenty.
The shortage is for a six-week period between April 15 and May 27.
Declaring the shortage allows visitor visa holders to apply for a variation of conditions and enable people to work in the respective regions.
MSD group general manager client service delivery Kay Read says seasonal labour efforts involve industry, local and central government agencies working closely together.
“We recognise an improved commitment by the horticulture and viticulture sectors to better manage their workforce requirements.
“Our focus remains on connecting New Zealanders to sustainable work and seasonal work is a step towards achieving this. We will continue to refer jobseekers to available vacancies across all industry sectors,” says Kay.
“Declaring or extending a labour shortage is a last resort measure and something that’s done once all other levers to find enough workers has been exhausted.
“A declaration also has the effect of highlighting to New Zealanders, who may be willing and able, that there are job opportunities available for them.”
Forecasts expect the peak harvest season for the kiwifruit industry to run until around May 2019 and there is currently a worker shortage of about 3800 people.
MSD Bay of Plenty regional commissioner Mike Bryant says there are a number of MSD initiatives partnering with the industry to help prepare and place jobseekers into seasonal work.
“We have a dedicated horticulture employment team of MSD work brokers who liaise year-round with employers in the sector and understand the industry needs. They support employers and workers with training, transport, accommodation, equipment and more.”
Since July 2018, MSD has placed more than 1000 people into jobs in the local kiwifruit industry, nearly 500 of them since January 2019, with many more prepared to start work once the main picking period is underway.
“These roles are an opportunity for people seeking to get back into the workforce and can open the door to other things. Many seasonal workers experience a variety of work in a range of locations and are able to stay employed year round using their diverse skills.”
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated supports the Ministry of Social Development’s declaration of a labour shortage for the kiwifruit industry in the Bay of Plenty.
There is a current shortfall of over 1400 vacancies in the Bay of Plenty’s kiwifruit industry which is expected to increase to 3800 at harvest’s peak around mid-April. There was a shortfall of 1200 vacancies at the peak of harvest in 2018.
“The industry has been working hard to attract labour for this year’s harvest,” says NZKGI CEO Nikki Johnson.
“NZKGI has been running a media campaign to promote work in our sector and early signals indicate that this has gone some way in reducing the number of vacancies.
“However, it is vital to our industry that there is enough seasonal labour for harvest, and we currently don’t have enough people to pick and pack the intended crop. So it is entirely prudent and good risk management for MSD to take this step in support of our campaign.
“We would encourage people – kiwis and visitors – to come and enjoy working in an industry that exports an iconic piece of kiwiana overseas.”
Kiwifruit industry employers have been working closely with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to place New Zealanders in vacant roles.
Between January and April 2019, MSD has placed nearly 500 job seekers into the kiwifruit industry.
Despite this more workers are still needed. The declaration of a seasonal labour shortage allows overseas visitors who already hold visitor visas to apply to vary the conditions of their visas for working in kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty.
Overseas visitors are encouraged to visit the New Zealand Immigration website where detailed information about varying the conditions of a visa can be found.
To date over 90 percent of this season’s total kiwifruit crop is yet to be harvested. It is forecast that a similar amount of fruit is required to be packed this year in comparison to last year. This includes an increase of 12 percent of SunGold kiwifruit which requires packing in a short period of time.
Nikki says NZKGI seeks to employ New Zealanders as a first priority, especially kiwis who live in regions with orchards and packhouses.
Work and Income has given help to people that need transport from other parts of BOP and other Work and Income clients who would like to access this should contact their local office for support.
“Because of the low unemployment rate this is not always possible, and other sources of workers, such as those from the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme and backpackers, are also required.”
She says the industry continues to have robust discussions with Government around increasing the number of workers available under the RSE scheme, as well as other avenues to meet demand during harvest.
NZKGI has recently secured co-funding and employed a labour coordinator to connect employers with workers over harvest and analyse current and future labour demands of the kiwifruit industry, and will use this information to deal with industry growth projections.
A University of Waikato report forecasts that the kiwifruit industry contribution to the Bay of Plenty’s GDP will increase 135 per cent by 2030 to $2.04 billion and require 14,329 new kiwifruit jobs.
The kiwifruit industry is an important contributor to the local Bay of Plenty economy, currently contributing $867 million to the regions GDP and employing 10,762 FTE in the year 2015/2016.
The last declaration of a labour shortage for the kiwifruit industry was made in 2018 when the unemployment rate in the Bay of Plenty was 5.9 per cent.
The current unemployment rate is 4.8 per cent.