Labour cri­sis crip­pling

Hor­ti­cul­ture wants im­mi­gra­tion opened up to help com­bat New Zealand's grow­ing labour cri­sis.

NZ Grower - - Your Levy At Work - By Sue Grant-Mackie

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.