Kiwifruit labour shortages already being felt

Picking and packing jobs are there for the taking this season, with labour shortages occurring. Photos: Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media.

One of New Zealand’s largest kiwifruit harvest companies has already signalled it has a labour shortage of 300 positions for this season.

Seeka Limited made the announcement March 17, saying vacant positions are for local people across their kiwifruit orchard and post-harvest operations in Bay of Plenty, Coromandel and Northland.

Seeka chief executive Michael Franks says the usual flow of people to work for the company in its eight facilities across the North Island has been impacted.

“The number of backpackers through our doors is low, and a significant portion of our experienced Recognised Seasonal Employee scheme employees have been restricted from departing their country.”

Michael says 135 RSE workers scheduled from Malaysia had been restricted with their government closing their borders for both inbound and outbound travellers.

“Sensibly, the NZ Government had allowed those vacancies to be filled with workers from the Pacific Islands. Even with these workers, Seeka is 300 short and the labour shortage is acute.

“While we look to employ New Zealanders first and foremost, we also need to find other sources of workers such as backpackers and those from the RSE scheme as the harvesting and packing window of kiwifruit is relatively short.”

New solutions

By March 17 about five per cent of crops Seeka handles had been processed. “For the moment we have coped – however in about three weeks we will hit peak flow and need far more numbers of people.”

“We’re open to new solutions, and given there are local businesses affected by Coronavirus in tourism or forestry who may be having difficulties keeping staff employed, working in the kiwifruit industry for a short term could be beneficial for everyone. We ask anyone looking for work to get in touch.”

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated CEO Nikki Johnson has also invited workers from Covid-19-impacted hospitality, tourism and forestry industries in NZ to join the harvest. See more on page 48.

Nikki says the sector expects a harvest of about 155 million trays of kiwifruit this year and predicts it will need more than 20,000 workers across the harvest and post-harvest period, with significant volumes of kiwifruit well into April, and final picking in June.

“After encountering a shortage of 1200 workers at the start of 2018’s harvest, NZKGI developed and implemented a labour attraction strategy for 2019’s harvest which was largely successful.”

The 2020 strategy’s key focus is on attracting Kiwis into seasonal roles. “While working holiday visa holders – backpackers – coming to NZ provide a lot of seasonal labour for our sector and others, we’re keen to ensure that, as a first priority, we make these roles available to Kiwis looking for work.

Work year-round

“We’d love to see more Kiwis coming into the industry, particularly if they’re located close to orchards and packhouses, not just for seasonal roles but also long-term employment in the sector or permanent roles, as well as retirees and students seeking work in orchards and packhouses.

“Kiwifruit work is almost year-round, once you factor in all the orchard maintenance work that’s required during the off-season.”

NZKGI is also working hard to try to lessen barriers to working in the industry, such as pressure on accommodation and transport challenges, says Nikki. “We’re also keen to ensure seasonal employees are treated properly and recommend potential workers choose their employer carefully from our list of approved contractors.”

As for Michael, he says the phoneline to Seeka is open. Call 0800 733 525 or visit:


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