Hous­ing work­ers pri­ori­tised

The Orchardist - - >>News - Story and pho­tos by Dianne King

A pre­dic­tion of an acute short­age of beds for sea­sonal work­ers in the Cromwell district has grow­ers, res­i­dents and the Cromwell Com­mu­nity Board at­tempt­ing to par­tially al­le­vi­ate the prob­lem.

The cherry, pipfruit and wine sec­tor in­dus­tries in the area will all be af­fected ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Otago District Coun­cil’s (CODC) re­cent hor­ti­cul­ture and viti­cul­ture sur­vey. It high­lighted that staffing for the past sea­son topped more than 4965 work­ers in hor­ti­cul­ture. But with plans for an ad­di­tional 465 hectares of cherry va­ri­eties planned in the Cromwell area the bed short­age would be crit­i­cal for the thou­sands of ex­tra staff re­quired. Cromwell al­ready pro­vides 95 per­cent of the coun­try’s cherry crop.

One of the most pop­u­lar spots for sea­sonal work­ers has been in free­dom camp­ing ar­eas be­side Lake Dun­stan for those em­ployed in ei­ther Cromwell or Alexan­dra, but th­ese site may no longer be an op­tion this sea­son. Free­dom camp­ing, a hot topic through­out the coun­try, is un­der re­view in Cen­tral Otago. The land around Lake Dun­stan is un­der the con­trol of Land and In­for­ma­tion New Zealand (LINZ), not the CODC. Cen­tral Otago mayor, Tim Cado­gan, said he was still not 100 per­cent sure what LINZ changes would, but he could see it be­com­ing very dif­fi­cult for sea­sonal work­ers to stay in free­dom camp­ing ar­eas. There are al­ready or­chard units, a hos­tel and on-site camp­ing grounds but some lo­cal res­i­dents have seen the de­mand for ac­com­mo­da­tion and many home­own­ers make rooms avail­able for rent. In one case the own­ers of a five-bed­room home took in work­ers in the grape in­dus­try.

Added to the acute short­age of worker ac­com­mo­da­tion in the fruit­grow­ing and wine in­dus­tries, the pace of new res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments in Cen­tral Otago has re­quired trade staff and labour­ers, all need­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The lack of avail­able beds is am­pli­fied by the need for staff in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­tries par­tic­u­larly in Queen­stown. Peo­ple are buy­ing or rent­ing homes in Cromwell and pre­pared to com­mute to work – about a 45 minute jour­ney.

At a re­cent Recog­nised Sea­sonal Em­ployer (RSE) Con­fer­ence the Min­is­ter of Im­mi­gra­tion, Ian Lees-Gal­loway, chal­lenged

grow­ers to think about the needs of fu­ture work­ers, say­ing this meant or­chardists should be build­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion for ad­di­tional work­ers at the same time as they planted more crops.

Some grow­ers seek­ing to pro­vide ac­com­mo­da­tion have found the de­mand for new stand-alone sleep­ing and ablu­tion units is so great that or­ders could not be filled un­til nearly next year. Ear­lier this year Hor­ti­cul­ture NZ pro­vided a guide to help grow­ers through the ap­pro­pri­ate pro­cesses that are re­quired for the de­vel­op­ment of sea­sonal work­ers’ ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Cen­tral Otago Fruit­grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion chair­woman, Trudy Webb, and Cen­tral Otago Wine Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent, James Dicey, have both con­firmed grow­ers in their in­dus­tries were look­ing at pro­vi­sion of fur­ther ac­com­mo­da­tion on or­chards and vine­yards this year. Trudy said most grow­ers have al­ways had some form of ac­com­mo­da­tion but the as­so­ci­a­tion was re­ally em­pha­sis­ing that they needed to make sure all staff were in ac­cept­able ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“We’ve been plug­ging that all year as work­ers are our ma­jor as­sets,” she said.

While some camp­ing sites are be­ing added to or­chard prop­er­ties, James said the as­so­ci­a­tion was not aware of any grow­ers plan­ning on adding camp­ing sites. Grow­ers, de­vel­op­ers and coun­cil needed to work to­gether to en­sure the cost of pro­vid­ing and build­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion was not a bar­rier to fu­ture de­vel­op­ment in the re­gion, he said. When asked for com­ment on the min­is­ter’s chal­lenge he said re­spon­si­ble growth meant en­sur­ing there was ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port growth.

The com­mu­nity board and the CODC have been sup­port­ive of mak­ing land avail­able for worker ac­com­mo­da­tion and sold 7.2ha to a com­pany de­vel­oper on the un­der­stand­ing it would be used for worker ac­com­mo­da­tion. The CODC said the need for a sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment was be­cause of worker ac­com­mo­da­tion short­ages in the Cen­tral Otago and Lakes ar­eas. It was also recog­nised the ac­com­mo­da­tion sit­u­a­tion in Cromwell was im­pact­ing on the abil­ity of lo­cal busi­nesses to se­cure staff and also a de­mand from work­ers who com­mute from Cromwell to other ar­eas.

This block of 7.2ha on Ceme­tery Road, and back­ing the Cromwell in­dus­trial area, was sold to AC/JV Hold­ings. Ini­tially this was planned as 58 rooms of 400 beds (two bunks per room) and ca­ter­ing for the sea­sonal worker mar­ket. How­ever an in­creas­ing de­mand for dif­fer­ent types of worker ac­com­mo­da­tion was later iden­ti­fied. A re­cent de­sign change is from shared bath­rooms, to each room hav­ing its own small bath­room. The fi­nal room num­ber sits at 74, pro­vid­ing for a wider worker mar­ket.

Cromwell Com­mu­nity Board chair­man, Neil Gille­spie, said while it was not the coun­cil nor the com­mu­nity board’s role to pro­vide ac­com­mo­da­tion it had re­sponded to the need by sell­ing land to the de­vel­oper.

“At the end of the day peo­ple will only use land for ac­com­mo­da­tion if there is a com­mer­cial re­turn,” he said.

The coun­cil’s fo­cus for this de­vel­op­ment has never shifted from be­ing worker ac­com­mo­da­tion.

At Webb’s’ Or­chard on the out­skirts of Cromwell co-owner, Si­mon Webb, said they were plan­ning to add a camp­ing fa­cil­ity this year which will com­ple­ment the two units that were added over 12 months ago.

Many of the Pa­cific RSE work­ers in­ter­act be­tween the fruit­grow­ing and grape grow­ing prop­er­ties in Cen­tral Otago be­fore and dur­ing har­vest pe­ri­ods. In the Cromwell basin the viti­cul­ture in­dus­try har­vest fol­lows hard on the back of the cherry crop. Wine-grow­ers work in with fruit­grow­ers whose work­ers will stay on site even if work­ing in viti­cul­ture.

Tim Cado­gan, said op­tions for on-site units or camp­ing fa­cil­i­ties on-site were in the hands of the grow­ers, within the re­stric­tions of the district plan.

“I’ve had sev­eral meet­ings with peo­ple within the in­dus­try, and broader, and I’m very pleased with the re­cep­tion,” he said.

“Re­al­is­ti­cally, work­ers need to be treated the same as would be {the case} for wa­ter sup­ply, elec­tric­ity sup­ply or com­mod­ity sup­ply. You have to se­cure your own work­ers so pro­vid­ing fa­cil­i­ties is part of that.”

While it was im­por­tant to have sea­sonal worker ac­com­mo­da­tion there was also a need for hous­ing for per­ma­nent staff. Rentals and house prices are too great for per­ma­nent staff and their fam­i­lies in the fruit sec­tors and he’s has been a driv­ing force be­hind the es­tab­lish­ment of a Cen­tral Otago Af­ford­able Hous­ing Trust.

“Peo­ple mak­ing a ca­reer in the in­dus­try need a foot in the mar­ket and to own their own home,” he said.

Th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties around Cromwell and Alexan­dra were be­com­ing very dif­fi­cult be­cause of the in­crease in house prices. But af­ford­able trusts, which have worked in other places and are in­de­pen­dent of coun­cils, could go some way to rec­ti­fy­ing the is­sue.

The two is­sues of sea­sonal worker sup­ply and lack of suit­able hous­ing, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the har­vest of cherry, pipfruit and grape ex­port crops, are also im­por­tant through­out the rest of Cen­tral Otago. In the Earn­scle­ugh, Roxburgh, and Et­trick ar­eas grow­ers have also pro­vided ac­com­mo­da­tion or camp­ing sites.

Many of the RSE work­ers, in­clud­ing a large group from Van­u­atu move on from the sum­mer­fruit and viti­cul­ture to pipfruit in the Et­trick area.

The fu­ture of the in­dus­try re­lies on se­cur­ing sea­sonal work­ers, ei­ther from NZ or through the RSE scheme and back­pack­ers. Unem­ploy­ment is at its low­est level since 2008 and there is a tight labour mar­ket. Across sum­mer­fruit, pipfruit, wine grapes and ki­wifruit it’s pre­dicted that by the year end­ing June 2024 there will be 29,462 work­ers avail­able, while 35,556 will be re­quired, a short­fall of 6248.

There are 149 RSE em­ploy­ers across NZ and with more ac­cred­ited this year the RSE cap was in­creased to 11,100 worker ar­rivals, but this can’t be ex­ceeded. Em­ploy­ers still needed to pro­vide ev­i­dence to jus­tify an in­crease, which would need to be agreed by all par­ties.

The pres­sure on grow­ers, par­tic­u­larly where larger de­vel­op­ments of cher­ries, pipfruit and grapes are planned, will in­crease as in­di­cated in CODC 2018 Labour sur­vey which pro­vided a snap­shot of fu­ture needs in th­ese ex­port earn­ers. It pre­dicted a short­fall of 2298 beds, 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 to­tal per­ma­nent staff to 614, an in­crease of 19 per­cent.

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