Chronic short­age of hous­ing in south

The Orchardist - - Labour Force Survey - By Dianne King

While per­ma­nent and sea­sonal worker num­bers grow in Cen­tral Otago hous­ing can’t keep up with de­mand.

Cen­tral Otago Dis­trict Coun­cil’s(CODC) lat­est hor­ti­cul­ture and viti­cul­ture sur­vey high­lights that staffing for the past sea­son topped more than 4965 work­ers in hor­ti­cul­ture.

In the viti­cul­ture sec­tor 1427 work­ers were em­ployed over the last sea­son, a drop in num­bers since the 2015 labour sur­vey.

“While there is a pre­dicted in­crease in bed and camp­ing ground sup­ply of 1615 there would still be a short­fall of 2298 beds,” the sur­vey said, given the ex­pected in­crease in plant­ings which will re­quire up to 6000 beds by 2021-22 in both sec­tors.

In both or­chards and vine­yards there has been an in­crease in the num­ber of per­ma­nent work­ers with 105 new per­ma­nent work­ers tak­ing the to­tal of per­ma­nent staff to 614, which is an in­crease of 19 per­cent. CODC labour mar­ket gov­er­nance chair­man Stephen Jef­fery, from Roxburgh, who is a dis­trict coun­cil­lor and for­mer or­chardist with 31 years ex­pe­ri­ence, said the new re­port pro­vided data for both sec­tors and “gives us a good foun­da­tion of the way for­ward”.

The sur­vey em­pha­sises the es­ti­mated chronic short­age of ac­com­mo­da­tion for sea­sonal work­ers. This is­sue must be solved, par­tic­u­larly with in­creased cherry plant­ings planned in Cromwell which al­ready pro­vides 95 per­cent of New Zealand’s cherry crop. In the next four to five years the big­gest growth is in the hor­ti­cul­ture sec­tor and in the Cromwell area where there are plans for an ad­di­tional 465ha of cherry va­ri­eties, an in­crease of 56 per­cent on cur­rent plant­ings.

Work­ers through the recog­nised sea­sonal em­ployer (RSE) scheme are con­sid­ered the back­bone of both sec­tors as they were in the pre­vi­ous sur­vey con­ducted in 2015, as they bring re­li­a­bil­ity and sta­bil­ity in the work force. Stake­hold­ers also recog­nised the im­por­tance of back­pack­ers as a source of sea­sonal labour and the sur­vey il­lus­trated that these work­ers were also es­sen­tial to the func­tion­ing of both hor­ti­cul­ture and viti­cul­ture.

In this past sea­son there was a short­age of work­ers, peak­ing in De­cem­ber 2017, with a short­fall of 409 work­ers. Hit­ting hard on grow­ers’ pock­ets in all sec­tors will be the pro­vi­sion of pur­pose-built ac­com­mo­da­tion for sea­sonal work­ers. Both sec­tors are plan­ning to in­crease beds for RSE work­ers by 288 by the 2021-22 har­vest. A ma­jor is­sue in the Cromwell dis­trict where the in­crease of plant­ings is ex­pected is the af­ford­abil­ity of hous­ing.

“The Cromwell dis­trict is a vi­brant one at the mo­ment,” Jef­fery said.

A num­ber of those sur­veyed see this as a ma­jor is­sue for per­ma­nent work­ers.

“Many per­ma­nent work­ers now can­not af­ford to buy a house and fur­ther­more, rental hous­ing is ex­pen­sive and in short sup­ply. The in­creas­ing un­af­ford­abil­ity of Queen­stown hous­ing means that peo­ple who work there are now forced to live in Cromwell and com­mute.”

This in turn re­duces the amount of hous­ing stock for Cromwell lo­cals.

The au­thors of the re­port make these rec­om­men­da­tions;

Raise the RSE cap in com­ing years to re­spond to the fore­cast labour de­mand.

• More flex­i­bil­ity and simplification in the Es­sen­tial Skills visa

cat­e­gory to make it eas­ier for em­ploy­ers to fill gaps.

• With the in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion from other sec­tors, there should be ad­di­tional work on at­tract­ing work­ing hol­i­day visa hold­ers to the two lo­cal in­dus­tries.

• The gov­er­nance group should work with in­dus­try bod­ies and grow­ers to de­velop a set of guide­lines around the care of work­ers, in­clud­ing pas­toral care, ac­com­mo­da­tion and min­i­mum con­di­tions.

• An eth­i­cally driven ap­proach to the care of work­ers has the po­ten­tial to give Cen­tral Otago a re­gional ad­van­tage when at­tract­ing work­ers.

There were also other rec­om­men­da­tions re­lat­ing to train­ing work­ers not only to work out­side in the or­chards and vine­yards. With in­creas­ing tech­nol­ogy there was a grow­ing de­mand for soft­ware and elec­tron­ics tech­ni­cians ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing and main­tain­ing the grow­ing num­ber of ma­chines in pack­houses, or­chards and vine­yards.

The sur­vey will be pre­sented by the coun­cil’s gov­er­nance group to Hor­ti­cul­ture NZ, Im­mi­gra­tion NZ and the Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment (MBIE) of­fi­cials. It was funded by the NZ Fruit­grow­ers Char­i­ta­ble Trust, Cen­tral Otago Wine­grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, Sea­sonal So­lu­tions Co­op­er­a­tive Ltd, Im­mi­gra­tion NZ and the Cen­tral Otago Dis­trict Coun­cil.

“The in­creas­ing un­af­ford­abil­ity of Queen­stown hous­ing means that peo­ple who work there are now forced to live in Cromwell and com­mute.”

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