Chronic shortage of housing in south
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.”