Labour crisis crippling
Horticulture wants immigration opened up to help combat New Zealand's growing labour crisis.
Though grateful for one of the biggest ever increases in the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) cap of 1750 to 12,850, growers believe this is just part of the solution.
With unemployment down to just 3.9 percent, this country doesn’t have enough workers to sustain growth across all sectors including tourism, aged-care and feeding ourselves, according to Hort NZ chief executive, Mike Chapman.
“Not to exaggerate, we are facing a labour crisis of economy-crippling proportions,” he said.
Rural businesses, including the rural and urban infrastructure that supports them, need skilled and reliable workers to continue to operate, let alone grow, and they need these workers today.
“Not to exaggerate, we are facing a labour crisis of economy-crippling proportions” MIKE CHAPMAN
“Our request to Government is to not only support horticulture’s initiatives getting New Zealanders into permanent work but to also open up sensible immigration to keep all of NZ’s industries growing.
“Without more people our economy will stagnate. So, all other options and perhaps even some more RSE workers to meet the critical shortages need to be considered. Something similar to the Australian response would be of great assistance and will be raised with the minister.”
Mike said Australia is doing better than NZ in tackling a similar labour crisis. In fact Australia is taking workers away from this country.
“Their response to labour shortages is to make it much easier for seasonal and semi-permanent foreign workers to come and work on their farms, in their orchards and commercial vegetable gardens,” he said.
“There is no cap on the Australian equivalent of our RSE scheme. That means Australian employers have no limit on the number of Pacific Islander workers they can employ, and they can work for nine months. It’s not surprising that the numbers of Pacific Islander workers in Australian horticulture in the past two years has increased by 40 percent.
“For entry-level and medium skilled jobs for all small to medium-sized businesses foreign workers can come in for three years. The Australian Government has moved to put in place an immediate fix – allowing more workers in. This is taking these workers away from NZ, making our situation worse.”
Horticulture is growing rapidly and, combined with wine, the industry earns more than $8.8 billion, including more than $5.1b of exports.
“While kiwifruit and apples are the most sought after, we are seeing huge growth in demand for avocados and cherries, as well as some berries,” he said.
“Harvest and pruning are intensive periods that require about 30,000 workers - about one-third of these workers come from the RSE scheme. “Unemployment in NZ is at a low level and that makes people who are willing to do outdoor physical work in short supply. Our industry is running a lot of programmes designed to get New Zealanders into work, but in the South Island during harvest there are virtually no New Zealanders available.
“These are not full-time jobs, which makes them less desirable for New Zealanders, with harvest and winter pruning work available for around six months of the year. The majority of RSE workers are in NZ from March through to May for the kiwifruit and apple harvests.”
Mike has criticised the Business Advisory Council for not focusing on the immediate crisis facing NZ – “a complete lack of labour with Australia taking away workers from NZ”. He said that though the council will focus on building tomorrow’s skills, accelerating growth in the regions, attracting high quality investment and unleashing our small to medium-sized enterprises – there will be nothing to unleash if NZ doesn’t have an immediate labour supply fix for the next few years. “Because there will be no small to medium-sized enterprises to unleash and nothing to invest in.”
Announcing the increased RSE cap, Immigration Minister Iain LeesGalloway acknowledged the growth in horticulture and its impact on labour needs, with growers forecasting 2600 more workers will be needed to help support the industry. Minister of Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni, emphasised the need for growers to keep their commitment to employing New Zealanders. “There are some horticulture employers like T&G in Hawke’s Bay that have hired thousands of New Zealanders and MSD [Social Development Ministry] clients over the years,” she said. “Through its industry partnership with MSD, T&G is able to offer flexible work hours and pastoral care for clients. The model is a hit with workers and business is booming for the Hawke’s Bay grower. “The Ministry will continue to grow industry partnerships with horticulture businesses that are committed to providing training and jobs for New Zealanders and grow a more skilled domestic workforce.”
Iain Lees-Galloway recently issued four challenges to RSE employers at their annual conference; to make the industry more attractive to NZ workers, by providing better wages and conditions, to build more accommodation for workers to alleviate local accommodation pressures, to take greater responsibility for supply chains and labour contractors to help stamp out migrant exploitation and to transform the horticulture and viticulture industries from low cost industries to be based on quality, productivity, and high value products. A comprehensive review of the RSE scheme will be carried out next year to ensure it delivers improvements while remaining consistent with the original intent of the scheme, he said.
Australia is doing better than NZ in tackling a similar labour crisis. In fact Australia is taking workers away from this country.