Focus Group

Local Kiwifruit growers in the Bay of Plenty are getting ready for another bumper harvest this season but once again are struggling to find workers to get the fruit off the vine, National’s Todd Muller says.

“The Government has the tools to fix the problem, but are failing to understand the urgency of the situation for orchardists who need more workers – not more working groups”.

“Fruit growers were grateful that the Government lifted the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme cap last year but that doesn’t go nearly far enough in a season some are calling a ‘perfect storm’ of big crops and a worker shortage.

“The Government needs to urgently declare a seasonal worker shortage, a situation that would allow work visas to be fast-tracked as they were late in the 2018 season, but instead they are sitting on their hands.

“The Government has tried to kick this issue for touch by announcing a review of the RSE scheme sometime in 2019 while saying growers should do more to attract local workers. The simple fact is there aren’t enough local workers who are prepared to get off the couch.

“Growers say they have no problem with the job seekers referred by the Ministry of Social Development but there simply aren’t enough of them.

“Seasonal fruit won’t wait for another round of consultation. Pressing problems need practical solutions or fruit will be left to rot on the vine.

“Kiwifruit growers, who have staged a remarkable comeback in recent years, are staring down the barrel of a golden harvest - but will be competing with vineyards and summer fruit orchards for workers who are facing the same predicament.

“A National Government would favour pragmatic solutions that help meet the immediate needs of growers while encouraging local job seekers. The Government must be more nimble in responding to the needs of export industries that underpin New Zealand’s growth.

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