Match­ing crop growth with work­ers

Po­ten­tial hor­ti­cul­ture labour short­ages in the years ahead was the big sub­ject at the re­cent Recog­nised Sea­sonal Em­ployer (RSE) Con­fer­ence held in Tau­ranga.

The Orchardist - - Rse Conference 2018 -

Hor­ti­cul­tureNZ chief ex­ec­u­tive, Mike Chap­man, who is also chair of the na­tional hor­ti­cul­ture/viti­cul­ture labour gov­er­nance group (NLSG) opened the con­fer­ence by say­ing that what ap­plied with the last Gov­ern­ment was not what would ap­ply with the cur­rent one.

The last Labour Gov­ern­ment had cre­ated an RSE scheme with a strong Pa­cific fo­cus. He also said it had made clear that RSE was a priv­i­lege not a right and an RSE pol­icy re­view had been fore­shad­owed. The risks to the scheme were not meet­ing Gov­ern­ment’s ex­pec­ta­tions, poor em­ployer per­for­mance sec­tor wide and not meet­ing cus­tomers’ ex­pec­ta­tions.

The con­fer­ence pro­gramme was de­signed to tackle ex­ploita­tion, hear the Gov­ern­ment’s ex­pec­ta­tions, have some in­put into the RSE process re­view, learn of ca­reer train­ing path­ways and hear more from RSE em­ploy­ers, he said.

Dave Court­ney, Ze­spri chief grower and al­liances of­fi­cer looked at fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges for the ki­wifruit in­dus­try. Around 82 per­cent of the crop is grown in the Bay of Plenty. Na­tion­ally there are 2435 growers with 14,500 canopy hectares of the crop. With 3055 reg­is­tered or­chards most are be­tween two and five hectares with the av­er­age size for Green of 3.5ha and for Gold of 2.6 ha. There are 56 pack­houses and 67 cool­stores used.

Over 400 on-or­chard labour con­trac­tors are reg­is­tered em­ploy­ing around 10,000 per­ma­nent staff and around 15,000 sea­sonal staff.

Ze­spri’s strat­egy is de­vel­op­ing and mar­ket­ing the world’s lead­ing port­fo­lio of ki­wifruit prod­ucts for 12 months of the year. It has a con­fi­dent view of long-term de­mand and aims to strengthen its de­mand po­si­tion.

“Ki­wifruit is still an un­der­de­vel­oped cat­e­gory within the fruit­bowl but with a huge growth po­ten­tial,” he said.

There were a num­ber of risks of not ac­cel­er­at­ing growth, such as giv­ing up shelf space to other ki­wifruit sup­pli­ers as well as other fruit.

“Loss of share within the fruit­bowl means it will be more costly to build men­tal and phys­i­cal avail­abil­ity,” he said.

That would for­feit the op­por­tu­nity to bring fur­ther value back to growers and the in­dus­try.

“It’s a dy­namic race,” he said.

“Stand­ing still means fall­ing be­hind.”

Images by Ivor Earp-Jones “Stand­ing still means fall­ing be­hind.”

Ze­spri’s global tar­get was $4.5 bil­lion rev­enue by 2025 but there were a num­ber of risks such as global po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic un­cer­tainty and biose­cu­rity risk had not gone away. Growers faced in­creased com­pli­ance and grow­ing costs in­clud­ing the min­i­mum wage go­ing up as well as land, labour and wa­ter con­straints.

There was also the risk of loss of mar­ket ac­cess to a ma­jor mar­ket and com­pe­ti­tion par­tic­u­larly in the Gold space as mar­kets didn’t de­velop to plan. Com­pe­ti­tion from other fruit also had to be con­sid­ered in the form of an­other fresh fruit be­ing in­tro­duced or more con­ve­nient fruit prod­ucts.

Pro­jected growth of the in­dus­try was equiv­a­lent to an­other Te Puke which re­quir­ing sig­nif­i­cant new plant­ings, a big­ger, more ca­pa­ble work­force and post-har­vest in­vest­ment. There was a sea­sonal short­age of labour based on cur­rent sup­ply es­ti­mates with the sea­sonal peak com­pound­ing over time. An at­trac­tion strat­egy needed to be im­ple­mented ad­dress­ing worker wel­fare, flex­i­ble and re­li­able work­ing ar­range­ments, ac­com­mo­da­tion and trans­port, ca­reer path­ways and in­vest­ment in tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment.

As well as in­dus­try-led strate­gies to ad­dress labour short­ages there were pos­si­ble ar­eas for col­lab­o­ra­tion and new ap­proaches to util­is­ing un­der-em­ployed and un­em­ployed work­ers. Th­ese would all in­volve con­tin­ued ac­cess to the RSE scheme, skills train­ing and work­ing with Gov­ern­ment.

Gary Jones from Ap­ples and Pears said the NZ ap­ple and pear in­dus­try would need 8708 more sea­sonal har­vest work­ers by 2030 with the har­vest that year es­ti­mated to re­quire 20285 sea­sonal work­ers and 2311 more per­ma­nent work­ers.

The Global.G..A.P. Risk As­sess­ment on So­cial Prac­tices (GRASP) scheme cov­ers per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees, sea­sonal work­ers, piece-rate work­ers and day labour­ers. Labour con­trac­tors were cap­tured into GRASP and growers who used labour con­trac­tors were re­quired to pro­vide ev­i­dence that they com­plied to GRASP

and ap­pro­pri­ate GAP con­trols dur­ing an au­dit. Jones said so­cial stan­dards and tools that as­sessed so­cial risk in agri­cul­tural sup­ply chains were in­creas­ingly the fo­cus of crit­i­cal me­dia and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion re­ports.

“Stake­hold­ers within food sup­ply chains are be­ing chal­lenged to mon­i­tor and mit­i­gate risks re­lated to poor work­ing con­di­tions and hu­man rights abuse.”

Pro­fes­sor Hamish Gow, di­rec­tor of busi­ness, in­no­va­tion and strat­egy at Massey Univer­sity said it was part­ner­ing with in­dus­try, Gov­ern­ment, and do­mes­tic and for­eign ed­u­ca­tional providers to es­tab­lish a re­gional hub model across the Pa­cific. A pos­si­ble model was base train­ing be­ing pro­vided off­sea­son, which would be a com­bi­na­tion of res­i­den­tial and on­line, at

re­gional hubs across the Pa­cific. This could be com­bined with tech­ni­cal and sci­en­tific train­ing pro­vided in New Zealand on the shoul­ders of the sea­son or in sea­sonal gaps.

Tim Allen from Stu­dent Job Search (SJS) said RSE was a great scheme but there were still gaps.

SJS, which he de­scribed as more than a pas­sive job board, but less than an agency, was keen to help with its unique match­mak­ing ser­vice be­tween em­ploy­ers and ter­tiary stu­dents run­ning since 1982. It was 90 per­cent Gov­ern­ment funded, a free ser­vice and filled around 27,000 jobs ev­ery year, was big on ser­vice and qual­ity and health and safety.

“More em­ploy­ers are see­ing that stu­dents can be the an­swer.”

Kate Long­man, Pri­mary ITO’s na­tional sec­tor man­ager – hor­ti­cul­ture and viti­cul­ture, said it was ac­tive in hor­ti­cul­ture and viti­cul­ture pro­duc­tion in­dus­try part­ner­ship groups and col­lab­o­rated with the Min­istry for So­cial De­vel­op­ment (MSD) in pre-em­ploy­ment ini­tia­tives. It car­ried out ef­fec­tive mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tion for ap­pren­tice­ships aligned with schools’ ac­tiv­i­ties.

It also tran­si­tioned RSE learn­ers from ex­pir­ing Level 1 pro­grammes with a new lim­ited credit pro­gramme in place as well as new in­dus­try train­ing and ap­pren­tice­ship pro­grammes at Lev­els 3 and 4. The New Zealand Cer­tifi­cate in Pri­mary In­dus­tries Skills (Level 2) RSE was now in place and go­ing for­ward any new RSE en­rol­ments would be di­rectly into the new qual­i­fi­ca­tion.


Dion Gam­perle from the NZ In­sti­tute of Eco­nomic Re­search re­ported on the known labour short­age in NZ’s hor­ti­cul­ture and viti­cul­ture in­dus­tries, which he said was im­por­tant be­cause it helped with dis­cus­sions on changes to the na­tional RSE cap. He said there was a tight labour mar­ket with un­em­ploy­ment at its low­est level since De­cem­ber 2008. Growers were hav­ing dif­fi­culty find­ing both skilled and un­skilled labour as there were lower num­bers of work­ing hol­i­day work­ers and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

Mean­while the growth in de­mand for labour was ex­pected to con­tinue driven mostly by more hectares planted in hor­ti­cul­tural crops rather than in­creases in yields. The big­gest deficit in labour avail­abil­ity was seen with ki­wifruit in April, pipfruit in March, sum­mer­fruit in Jan­uary and wine grapes in July. In the year to June 2019 it was es­ti­mated the max­i­mum num­ber of work­ers avail­able was 27,408 while 30,071 were needed, a dif­fer­ence of 2663. But by the year ended June 2024 it was pre­dicted that there would be 29,462 work­ers avail­able while 35,556 were re­quired, a larger dif­fer­ence of 6428.

“Fur­ther work needs to be done to im­prove es­ti­mates of the level of con­trac­tor sup­ply to re­duce the un­cer­tainty of the es­ti­mates,” he said.

And more com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of data on ac­com­mo­da­tion and trans­port pro­vided was re­quired to pro­vide a more in­formed view of the work­ing con­di­tions.

Michael Jones, se­nior ad­vi­sor, Paci­fica labour and skills for the Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment (MBIE) looked at the visa op­tions avail­able out­side of RSE. Th­ese in­cluded refugees, those who fit­ted the Pa­cific Ac­cess Cat­e­gory or Samoan quota and the Skilled Mi­grant Cat­e­gory all of whom were res­i­dents. Then there were those with es­sen­tial skills, those who had ap­proval in prin­ci­ple, those on work­ing hol­i­days and those in the sup­ple­men­tary sea­sonal em­ploy­ment cat­e­gory who all had tem­po­rary visas.

“We strongly rec­om­mend that em­ploy­ers ob­tain an ap­proval in prin­ci­ple to re­cruit over­seas work­ers if they in­tend to re­cruit mul­ti­ple work­ers for po­si­tions which are not listed on one of the skills short­age lists,” he said.

“This will en­sure more ef­fi­cient pro­cess­ing of in­di­vid­ual work visa ap­pli­ca­tions as the labour mar­ket test and em­ployer sus­tain­abil­ity will have al­ready been com­pleted.”

An­drew New­bery, the RSE Unit’s im­mi­gra­tion man­ager, re­viewed the year to June 30 say­ing there was in­creased use of joint ap­proval to re­cruit (ATRs) which were up from over 2000 work­ers to over 3000 work­ers There were around 14,000 ap­provals with 11,079 worker ar­rivals com­pared with 10,400 year be­fore. There were 149 RSE em­ploy­ers across NZ with more ac­cred­ited this year and the RSE cap was in­creased to 11,100 worker ar­rivals.

“The cap is not a tar­get, it can­not be ex­ceeded,” he said.

Em­ploy­ers still needed to pro­vide ev­i­dence to jus­tify an in­crease which would need to be agreed by all par­ties.

Even if the ATR was sup­ported by MSD it needed to fit within na­tional or re­gional al­lo­ca­tions as joint ATRs as­sisted with na­tional num­bers only. Joint ATRs needed to be sub­mit­ted to­gether but at present the RSE Unit was han­dling all ap­pli­ca­tions and up to date with work­flows.

Ge­orge Rarere, MBIE’s man­ager of the Pasi­fika labour and skills

unit, gave de­tails of worker ar­rivals by month and coun­try. He said the de­vel­op­ment of Coun­try Ac­tion Plans (CAPs) for Pa­cific Is­land coun­tries fol­lowed the suc­cess­ful re­view of the Strength­en­ing Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (SPP) pro­gramme in 2016. Each PIC had pro­vided its draft CAP to MBIE which would now be as­sessed af­ter con­sul­ta­tion, fi­nalised and then put into place.

Over the last three years RSE stake­hold­ers had raised con­cerns about worker be­hav­iour detri­men­tal to pro­duc­tiv­ity, their brand and the gen­eral in­tegrity of RSE, he said. So ques­tions were asked of the Pa­cific labour mar­ket units (LMUs) with fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­veal­ing no con­sis­tent ser­vice de­liv­ery frame­work across the LMUs.

Pre-de­par­ture train­ing was a cru­cial part of the process cov­er­ing sub­jects such as the NZ work­ing en­vi­ron­ment and ex­pec­ta­tions of key stake­hold­ers. Over the last 12 months MBIE had con­sol­i­dated ex­ist­ing ef­forts into an RSE pre­de­par­ture tool­kit which would be rolled out across the Pa­cific in late Novem­ber or early De­cem­ber. And it had com­mis­sioned a team led by Pro­fes­sor Richard Bedford to un­der­take a study to as­sess the im­pacts af­ter 10 years of RSE.

It would take around two years to com­plete.

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