Kate Hawkesby: Australia pipped us to the post on seasonal workers

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 Mar 2021, 11:15AM
(Photo / Getty)

Kate Hawkesby: Australia pipped us to the post on seasonal workers

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 Mar 2021, 11:15AM

It’s extremely sad to see the demise of strawberry growing at Perry’s Berrys in Auckland.

It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. It’s not like the horticulture industry hasn’t been crying out for pickers for months and asking the government to help out.

But with so many months of their pleas falling on deaf ears, and so little help offered, what choice do some growers have but to shut up shop?

Australia pipped us at the post here of course – they let in seasonal workers from the Pacific, put special plans in place to make it happen, they made sure their horticulture industry didn’t get hung out to dry. All while we seemed happy to let fruit rot on the ground.

I remember interviewing growers late last year on this; they were forecasting the inevitable doom ahead, and begging the government to step in. I asked what they’d heard back from the government in terms of any relief coming their way. They’d heard nothing. The government hadn’t even gotten back to them, so you can imagine how that felt for them.

I notice Horticulture NZ, who’ve been agitating for months on this, is again asking the government to allow quarantine-free travel for workers from Covid-free Pacific Island countries. They’re saying, according to one report, that ‘business will die otherwise’.

The government let in 2,000 workers at the end of last year, but that was a drop in the ocean, the industry says it needs more like 10,000 seasonal workers.

The stress these businesses must be under, trying to keep themselves afloat, all the while doing it with zero assistance and a limited workforce, must be super frustrating when the solutions are obvious and right in front of you. When the problem can easily be solved. And when you’ve been extremely vocal about that problem – and its solutions – for months on end.

It must be how a lot of tourism businesses are feeling currently. Cast adrift without much hope of a life raft.

Hopefully that’s all changing soon – hopefully we’ll be getting a trans-Tasman bubble opening shortly.  Fingers crossed there’ll be an announcement today, if not at some stage this week.

And once that happens, I get the feeling cooped up Kiwis will head across the ditch in their drove, but I just hope Australians come here in their droves too. God knows we need them.

We need business as usual, we need foot traffic, full hotels and motels, we need seasonal workers, we need international students. We need all the things that make an economy tick, and we need them desperately. Let’s hope today’s the day we get the green light on getting that trans-Tasman love flowing.