Kiwifruit industry recruiting to avoid worker shortage

Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 7 February 2019, 6:06p.m.
Last year, there was a 1200 labourer shortage in the Bay of Plenty. (Photo / Getty)

The Western Bay's kiwifruit industry has already started recruiting for thousands of seasonal workers in an effort to avoid a repeat of last year's 1200-job labour shortage.

The harvest season starts in April but with a tight labour market - unemployment in the Bay is at just 3.5 per cent - major industry players have launched their recruitment campaigns early in the hope that potential workers will choose the Bay of Plenty over other horticulture regions.

In May the Ministry of Social Development declared a seasonal worker shortage for the first time in more than a decade, after a very good kiwifruit harvest.

MSD regional commissioner Mike Bryant said Bay of Plenty growers were being more proactive in planning and recruiting this year.

The industry has come up with a soon-to-be-launched strategy to attract workers such as backpackers and retirees to the region's orchards and packhouses, on top of the Government last year increasing Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme cap on migrant workers by 1750 to 12,850 workers nationally.

Nikki Johnson, chief executive of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc said the industry would need around 15,000 workers across New Zealand at the peak of the harvest, about 85 per cent of which would be in the Bay of Plenty.

The number of job vacancies would depend on the size of the harvest, which would be better understood in April.

Johnson was expecting a tough labour market, given the low unemployment rate and competition from other horticulture regions and industries.

She told Larry Williams that they are making sure everyone who could work for them is aware that their skills are needed. 

Johnson says they are currently expecting a similar shortage to last year. 

"We have about a similar amount of fruit to harvest, but we have more of the gold fruit, which means it needs to be harvested in a shorter amount of time."

She says that they are targeting people in the Bay of Plenty as their main work force, and are eyeing retirees and those at school. 

Johnson says that when the shortage was announced last year, 600 people came out within days. 

"That indicates to us that we aren't getting the message through that the jobs are available." 

While it was still early days, EastPack CEO Hamish Simson said the situation was looking promising.

He said the company needed just over 3000 workers in the Bay of Plenty.

In addition to online and billboard advertising, the company would hold open days at its four sites - Te Puke, Edgecumbe, Ōpōtiki and Katikati - in mid-February.

The Bay of Plenty needed to sell itself to seasonal workers as the place to be, he said, given the labour demand from other parts of the country.

Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said the company needed 3500 staff in the Bay of Plenty this season.

Franks said the "acute" labour shortage last year had inspired the company to get more creative with its recruitment.

"We need more workers than are in the labour supply."

Helen van Berkel, editor of careers website Yudu, said employers had to be innovative in a tight labour market.

"Workers have the pick of jobs – so it is up to the employer to make it as easy for those employees as possible."

Tauranga-based First Union organiser Graham McKean said the kiwifruit industry had a reputation for offering hard, physical work and low pay.

He said that to attract staff, it needed to up pay rates, improve hours and working conditions and ensure workers had a voice.

Last year saw a 25 per cent increase in kiwifruit production, with export revenue forecast to rise to $2.2 billion for the year ended March 2019, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries.



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