Sustainable workforce will be of benefit to all
As a grower and consultant Tim Egan has for years been aware of the two-edged problem of producers not being able to get enough staff in the busy season, and there not being enough work for local workers in the down times.
Adding the voices of other growers and interested parties, that led to the foundation of the Tairawhiti Labour Governance Group that helped formulate the number of RSE (Registered Seasonal Employer) workers the region is allowed to tap into.
But that's a short-term fix and in terms of the long-term, he believes that in forging a solution, Gisborne faces different challenges than many other regions.
“You have places like the Bay of Plenty which is well organised around kiwifruit, and Hawke's Bay where they have a lot of pipfruit, so those are well-defined seasons and there is lots of capability in organising labour requirements,” he says.
“But here in Gisborne we grow apples, kiwifruit, grapes, persimmons, macademias, citrus – just about every crop under the sun – plus lots of vegetables, corn and maize, so we have a very diverse horticultural landscape and that's tough for one person or group to get their heads around.”
The appointment of Rawinia Parata as Tipu co-ordinator will help bring all the information together, says Egan.
“So the scope or aim of that role is to try to talk to all the parties involved and come up with some strategies to meet growers' needs while also getting local people into the workforce, and to understand what the future requirements might be.”
Supporting Parata's role is a partnership between Gisborne growers, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Horticulture New Zealand, with supporting organisations like the Industry Training Organisation and the Eastern Institute of Technology.
“There was an appointment committee made up of myself, Karen Bartlett (MSD), Wayne Hall (Wi Pere Trust) and Tania Kearns (Riversun) and between the four of us we act in an advisory role in helping achieve the aims of Tipu . . . to develop a skilled and sustainable labour force in the Tairawhiti horticulture industry,” he says.
“It’s a big ask but this project has major implications not just for industry, but also for our community as a whole.” could play a bigger role in promoting career opportunities within their industries.
But as it stands, Parata says growers often don't take a collective approach in terms of meeting their labour needs so there is an element of competition in securing good workers, she says.
“My aim is to get an accurate understanding of what the industry requires in terms of employees and what the employees need to get into the workforce, and that is not something you can understand from statistics alone.”
An ideal result would be the creation of a 12-month calendar showing all production cycles over the course of a year, she says, enabling the direction of seasonal workers from job to job and thereby offering them year-round employment.
“Getting there will be a big job . . . I already have 298 growers on my list to talk to and that doesn't include grape growers.
“But by doing that detailed work you have the potential to create say 500 full-time roles, to replace the sometimes piecemeal work that is available now, and that would be a big win for everyone.”
Some of those winner will be growers, who Parata hopes will be less wary of investing in training as work opportunities get more organised and more regular.
“A co-ordinated approach that offers year-round employment means a worker can go from being say, a novice pruner to a specialist, and as long as they continue to be engaged and reliable, that makes them an asset to the industry.
“What is required is that people in the industry say 'yes, we will invest in our workers' and, as worker wellbeing has a direct impact on productivity, we are confident they will reap the rewards.”
Getting that message across is a vital part of the co-ordinator's role and Rawinia Parata well placed to do that.
Brought up in the East Coast settlement of Ruatoria, she went to Wellington to study communications graduate and later took on roles including campaign management for then-Minister of Parliament Hekia Parata and communications and marketing positions with Te Tumu Paeroa (The Maori Trustee) and Te Wananga o Aotearoa.
“That sort of work really brings it home how important it is that people truly understand the material. If they don't, then you simply aren't communicating.”
What she also learned is how many hoops there are to jump through to get meaningful projects off the ground.
“That means it can be challenging to develop new programmes but it is definitely possible. So part of my role will be to understand what training is out there for workers and employers to tap into and what is being developed, that way we can look at what might be needed in terms of future requirements.
“For workers it does help to have that bit of paper, that qualification, as it tells employers that not only can you do a job, but that you are committed to it. And I think that every organisation on the East Coast that provides training can have a part to play.”
So while Tipu will be good for growers, Parata says it also takes a wider community approach that will be great for employees.
“There is a lack of security in seasonal work that doesn't make it easy for families,” she says.
“I couldn't function not knowing how much I am going to be paid from week to week, and neither should they. It is about sustainability and strength, for both industry and the region as a whole.”
To learn about or contribute to Tipu, contact Rawinia Parata at firstname.lastname@example.org.