LABOUR WOES NEED EN­DUR­ING SO­LU­TIONS

The Orchardist - - Front Page - By Sandy Scar­row

I write this ar­ti­cle as the pipfruit har­vest is com­ing to an end and the ki­wifruit in­dus­try has just com­pleted the har­vest of a record 65 mil­lion trays of gold ki­wifruit and is em­bark­ing on the main pick of green ki­wifruit. There has been sig­nif­i­cant me­dia cov­er­age of the is­sues both in­dus­tries have faced in get­ting work­ers to pick and pack this fruit. Other hor­ti­cul­ture sec­tors are fac­ing sim­i­lar dif­fi­cul­ties. The me­dia cov­er­age re­ports in­dus­try pun­dits with sim­plis­tic an­swers to the is­sue. Some so­lu­tions such as “Just pay peo­ple more” or “Just train them and they’ll be able to pick faster” are of­fered up. In my view these so­lu­tions are too sim­plis­tic. Thought needs to be given to whole prob­lem to gen­er­ate en­dur­ing so­lu­tions. Many in the in­dus­try are work­ing on these en­dur­ing so­lu­tions. This ar­ti­cle is writ­ten as a “think piece” around this is­sue – aim­ing to high­light some of the is­sues but un­for­tu­nately not pro­vid­ing many an­swers.

FULL EM­PLOY­MENT

One is­sue that hasn’t been ad­dressed, and even ig­nored by many is that New Zealand is tech­ni­cally ap­proach­ing “full em­ploy­ment”. Full em­ploy­ment is an eco­nomic term for when al­most ev­ery­one in an econ­omy, who wants to work, is ei­ther in em­ploy­ment or mov­ing be­tween jobs or study. This level is nom­i­nally 4%. Fig­ure 1 shows the rate of unemployment in New Zealand over the past 30 years. The solid green line is the 4% full em­ploy­ment level. By the end of 2017, the level of unemployment was ap­proach­ing this green line, sim­i­lar to where is was in 2004 – 2006 when again the horticultural in­dus­try strug­gled to get the work­ers needed to tend, har­vest and pack crops.

At this level of em­ploy­ment, the in­dus­try needs to find a way to at­tract peo­ple away from their ex­ist­ing em­ploy­ment, from study or those few re­main­ing peo­ple reg­is­tered as job seek­ers into hor­ti­cul­ture. This is a work pro­gramme that Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand and oth­ers have been fo­cus­ing on for many years.

A 2014 re­port sug­gests that the in­dus­try will see a net in­crease of 7,800 work­ers by 2025 if the planned in­dus­try strate­gies are to be re­alised1. This same re­port states that an­other 26,300 peo­ple are re­quired to re­place the nat­u­ral at­tri­tion of work­ers from the in­dus­try. Where are these work­ers go­ing to come from and how are we go­ing to hang on to those we have?

SEA­SONAL NA­TURE OF THE WORK

An­other thing that is not ac­knowl­edged suf­fi­ciently is that much of the work by its very na­ture is sea­sonal. Be­cause of the sea­sonal na­ture of the work, it is un­likely that work­ers in good full-time roles will move into sea­sonal roles in hor­ti­cul­ture. It just doesn’t make eco­nomic sense for them to do so.Work­ers there­fore need to be sourced from else­where.

The Recog­nised Sea­sonal Em­ployer (RSE) scheme is bril­liant in that it has ac­knowl­edged the sea­sonal need for work­ers and has sourced labour from our neigh­bours in the Pa­cific and else­where who strug­gle to find well paid work for their pop­u­la­tion. Fig­ure 2 pro­vides graphic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the rel­a­tive Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct (GDP), and in­di­ca­tor of rel­a­tive wealth, of Aus­tralia, New Zealand and our Pa­cific neigh­bours.

NEETS

One pool of peo­ple who present a real op­por­tu­nity are those clas­si­fied as Not in Ed­u­ca­tion, Em­ploy­ment or Train­ing, oth­er­wise known as NEETs. While the level of unemployment over­all is drop­ping, there has been an in­crease of those aged be­tween 15 and 24 in this NEET cat­e­gory. The pro­por­tion of these NEETs in­creased to 12.4% at the end of March 2018.2 Just over 600,0003 of our pop­u­la­tion are within this age bracket, so there are just un­der 75,000 NEETs in New Zealand. This is a group of peo­ple who need to be tar­geted

to fill the in­dus­tries needs for per­ma­nent work­ers. A suc­cess­ful strat­egy to bring these peo­ple into the in­dus­try will be a win:win:win for the in­dus­try, the in­di­vid­u­als and New Zealand as a whole.

Many of those in this NEET cat­e­gory are Maori or Pa­cific Island peo­ple. They are likely to be those for whom their ca­reer was be­gin­ning as New Zealand was im­pacted by the Global Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis in 2007/08 who have been left to lan­guish on a ben­e­fit as the coun­try re­cov­ered.

To en­cour­age these peo­ple into the horticultural in­dus­try needs con­certed ef­fort and there are al­ready some great pro­grammes fo­cus­ing in this area. The in­dus­try needs to look at the bar­ri­ers that ex­ist to mov­ing from a ben­e­fit into em­ploy­ment and find so­lu­tions. A 2003 re­port high­lighted the bar­ri­ers to em­ploy­ment among ben­e­fi­cia­ries4. These bar­ri­ers are listed be­low and are un­likely to have changed since this re­port was writ­ten. Think­ing about those NEET, what can we as a na­tion, an in­dus­try and as in­di­vid­ual work­places do to make them think about an op­por­tu­nity in hor­ti­cul­ture in pref­er­ence to a life on in­come sup­port? Fol­low­ing is a brain­storm of some ideas I have – some of which are al­ready be­ing im­ple­mented with vary­ing suc­cess across New Zealand.

• Make the work­place more wel­com­ing of those with dis­abil­ity, and those who have do­mes­tic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. This is be­ing done in many work­places by of­fer­ing split shifts or shifts that work in with school hours. Creches have also been es­tab­lished in some work places.

En­able work­ers to ac­knowl­edge times of men­tal stress, in­clud­ing those ex­pe­ri­enc­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, and al­low the time needed to re­turn to a healthy equi­lib­rium with­out risk­ing their role. This may in­clude al­low­ing for job-shar­ing of roles or let­ting peo­ple take time away from work to do what­ever they need to in full knowl­edge that their job will be there for them when they re­turn.

Don’t dis­crim­i­nate against those with no or low skills where the re­quired skills are learn­able, even ad­ver­tise that those with no qual­i­fi­ca­tions are wel­come to ap­ply, in-job train­ing will be given. Also sup­port the train­ing pro­grammes that are fo­cus­ing on this co­hort.

Align drug test­ing poli­cies so that im­pair­ment rather than use is tested for.

Cur­rent neg­a­tive me­dia cov­er­age, epit­o­mised by the es­tab­lish­ment of the New Zealand Ki­wifruit Work­ers Al­liance face­book page ( https://www.face­book.

com/Ki­wifruitWork­ers/?ref=br_rs), of the abuses that are oc­cur­ring within hor­ti­cul­ture dam­age the im­age of the in­dus­try no end. It would be great if as an in­dus­try we could re­fute the neg­a­tive me­dia cov­er­age but we can’t hold our hands on our heart and say it doesn’t oc­cur be­cause we all know it does. At­ti­tudes about the in­dus­try will only change when the cul­ture within the in­dus­try changes. We all need to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for this. We need to call out bad prac­tice and sup­port those who are the vic­tims of this bad prac­tice to seek le­gal re­dress.

Tap into all the so­cial net­works that ex­ist within your work­place to en­sure that you reach out to all those within the lo­cal com­mu­nity who may be avail­able for work. If net­works don’t ex­ist into some com­mu­ni­ties, do what you can to es­tab­lish mean­ing­ful en­gage­ment with those com­mu­ni­ties. This might mean en­cour­ag­ing work­ers to join clubs and at­tend var­i­ous func­tions to ex­pand con­tacts in your com­mu­nity.

• Es­tab­lish net­works with the Corrections De­part­ment or the New Zealand Com­mu­nity Pro­ba­tion Ser­vice to give those with a crim­i­nal past a chance. There is some great work be­ing done with the Corrections De­part­ment and em­ploy­ers mov­ing peo­ple into horticultural work.

• Pro­vide ei­ther trans­port or ac­com­mo­da­tion to make your work­place ac­ces­si­ble to those liv­ing some dis­tance from it.

• Think about your work­place – is it wel­com­ing of peo­ple of dif­fer­ent cul­tures (and cul­ture here is meant in the widest sense). What can you do to make it more wel­com­ing of those who may not fit the ex­ist­ing cul­tural pro­file of your work­place?

• What can you as an em­ployer do to re­duce fi­nan­cial dis­in­cen­tives? This may in­clude: – Pro­vid­ing guar­an­teed hours of work as some­one tran­si­tions from the ben­e­fit to em­ploy­ment

– Re­im­burs­ing staff for travel time and ex­penses if trav­el­ling be­tween or­chards

– Re­im­burs­ing staff for down­time such as time spent wait­ing for ki­wifruit to dry be­fore har­vest can be­gin.

• What is done to ease some­one back on to a ben­e­fit at the end of sea­sonal work. I un­der­stand for some, the risk of be­ing stood down from a ben­e­fit at the end of the sea­son is too great. They would pre­fer to re­main on the rel­a­tively low in­come avail­able to them on a ben­e­fit than risk los­ing what lit­tle they have and up­set­ting fam­ily sta­bil­ity for a short-term role in paid em­ploy­ment.

• What can you do to en­able ac­cess to ap­pro­pri­ate sup­port when and if work­ers strug­gle? Do you have a list of sup­port agen­cies who can pro­vide the help needed and en­able work­ers time to ac­cess such agen­cies?

In sum­mary, there are some key is­sues that need to be fo­cused on to se­cure labour for our grow­ing fu­ture. These need to be looked at from the govern­ment per­spec­tive, in­dus­try and within your own work­place.

GOVERN­MENT

• Con­tin­ued sup­port of the RSE scheme in­clud­ing more flex­i­bil­ity around the cap at times of full em­ploy­ment.

• Poli­cies and pro­ce­dures that al­low for a smooth tran­si­tion for those on in­come sup­port into work and back again.

• Con­tin­ued fund­ing of pro­grammes that sup­port NEET, and oth­ers, into the horticultural in­dus­try.

• In­creased en­force­ment of labour laws to move the bad op­er­a­tors out of the in­dus­try.

IN­DUS­TRY

• Con­tin­ued pro­mo­tion of the horticultural in­dus­try as a ca­reer op­por­tu­nity.

• Incentives for those who have good labour prac­tices and dis­in­cen­tives for those who don’t.

IN­DI­VID­UAL WORK­PLACES

• Check how your work­ers are feel­ing about their work­place. Make any im­prove­ments sug­gested – you don’t want to lose the work­ers you al­ready have.

• Sup­port con­trac­tors and oth­ers who have good labour prac­tices and re­port those who don’t.

• Do what you can to make your work­place wel­com­ing to those who are com­ing into the in­dus­try to en­sure their ex­pe­ri­ence is pos­i­tive.

• Sup­port pro­grammes that bring new peo­ple into the in­dus­try.

These so­lu­tions pre­sented above will go some­way to clos­ing the gap cur­rently ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween labour sup­ply and de­mand.

Fu­ture Ca­pa­bil­ity Needs for Pri­mary In­dus­tries - April 2014, Nimmo-Bell and In­fo­met­rics

https://www.stats.govt.nz/news/unemployment-and-un­der­util­i­sa­tion-rates-both-fall

https://www.in­dex­mundi.com/new_zealand/de­mo­graph­ic­s_pro­file.html

Bar­ri­ers to Em­ploy­ment among Long-term Ben­e­fi­cia­ries: A re­view of re­cent in­ter­na­tional ev­i­dence. Su­san B Sin­g­ley, Cen­tre for So­cial Re­search and Eval­u­a­tion, June 2003

Fig­ure 1. New Zealand Unemployment Rate Com­pared with the Full Em­ploy­ment Level

Fig­ure 2. Rel­a­tive Wealth of RSE Send­ing Coun­tries com­pared with New Zealand and Aus­tralia

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