Match­ing work­ers with ki­wifruit growth

The ki­wifruit in­dus­try was able to get through the peak of this year’s har­vest­ing sea­son, but in the fu­ture that’s not go­ing to be enough.

The Orchardist - - >>Kiwifruit Labour Report - By Denise Landow

Ma­jor em­ploy­ment is­sues which caused a worker short­age of around 1200 peo­ple have been high­lighted in a re­cent re­port, which quan­ti­fied the ki­wifruit in­dus­try’s labour prob­lems for the first time.

Pub­lished by New Zealand Ki­wifruit Grow­ers In­cor­po­rated (NZKGI) it was co-writ­ten by its chief ex­ec­u­tive, Nikki Johnson and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager, Mike Mur­phy, while Ze­spri’s, Sue Groe­newald helped with data col­lec­tion. It stems from a NZKGI sur­vey of in­dus­try par­tic­i­pants ear­lier this year so fig­ures are based on the 2017 sea­son.

Nikki said the re­port’s find­ings re­quire the in­dus­try to step up – and now. It high­lighted that there were no sil­ver bul­lets, but now there are clearly de­fined ar­eas to work on, thanks to de­vel­op­ment of a model to show how many full­time equiv­a­lents (FTEs) are needed per hectare to com­plete all the sea­sonal tasks the in­dus­try re­quires. In sim­plis­tic terms, for or­chard tasks, the in­dus­try needs a labour unit for ev­ery 0.46 hectare of Green and 0.64ha of Gold. This num­ber is mul­ti­plied ei­ther by the num­ber of Green or Gold per hectare.

“That iden­ti­fies how many FTE staff are needed,” she said.

“Pack­house fig­ures are based on how many trays are packed per per­son per hour. Ex­trap­o­lated out to the num­ber of hectares we have right now, the re­port sug­gests we needed 15,678 FTEs in 2017.”

So 2027 pro­jec­tions might mean a fur­ther 7000 sea­sonal staff would be re­quired. Sea­sonal work is de­fined as non­per­ma­nent and short-term labour, and is a sig­nif­i­cant part of ki­wifruit’s over­all work­force with sea­sonal work­ers em­ployed from any­thing be­tween two-weeks to nine months. And New Zealand work­ers might be em­ployed dur­ing har­vest but not at prun­ing, so the FTE unit was an easy way to record labour units.

While labour short­age prob­lems are ac­knowl­edged, the sit­u­a­tion in 2018 turned out to be “a bit more of an is­sue” than an­tic­i­pated due to sev­eral fac­tors.

In 2016 30 per­cent of the Bay of Plenty’s work­force were in­ter­na­tional stu­dents at­tend­ing lan­guage schools. Nikki said the pre­vi­ous Govern­ment ap­plied more con­sis­tent re­quire­ments around in­ter­na­tional schools which re­sulted in three big lan­guage and busi­ness schools in the re­gion dis­ap­pear­ing.

By law, in­ter­na­tional stu­dents are only al­lowed to work 20 hours a week, but the clo­sures had a short-term im­pact on the ki­wifruit in­dus­try.

“We need to re­place that work­force from some­where else.”

Ear­lier this year fol­low­ing a dec­la­ra­tion of the labour short­age by the Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment (MSD), about 600 peo­ple made them­selves avail­able, in­clud­ing around 200 MSD clients.

“We got through the sea­son but it was stress­ful on many,” Nikki said.

“We were lucky with good weather, so the pres­sure wasn’t as strong as it might have been.”

But with the Gold crop ex­pand­ing, it’s a good time to start con­ver­sa­tions be­cause Gold has dif­fer­ent labour re­quire­ments, be­ing more labour in­ten­sive than Green. And it’s fore­cast to

ac­count for around two-thirds of in­dus­try vol­umes by 2027, mean­ing the in­dus­try faces an ex­treme labour de­mand peak.

“In­creas­ing Gold plant­ings will cre­ate crit­i­cal pres­sure points,” she said.

“Ob­vi­ously build­ing new ca­pac­ity that only gets used for a cou­ple of weeks a year is not the best way of do­ing things but there are ini­tia­tives we can use to spread out that peak.”

Roles could be linked to­gether bet­ter, which pro­vides em­ploy­ees with more con­sis­tent work and added cer­tainty around their em­ploy­ment. The in­dus­try could be­gin pro­vid­ing 10-month con­tracts which would at­tract good peo­ple.

Pay rates are an­other big con­cern.

“There’s been much talk about pay rates and this re­port demon­strates there’s al­ready good money avail­able for mo­ti­vated peo­ple,” Nikki said.

Some staff earn $25 per hour and we’ve heard about peo­ple earn­ing more than that.”

There are op­por­tu­ni­ties for work­ers to progress from ba­sic pack­house jobs to higher-skilled roles within weeks. If they demon­strate ap­ti­tude and mo­ti­va­tion they can step up to line su­per­vi­sor or qual­ity con­trol roles rel­a­tively quickly. Nikki said there are a num­ber of open­ings to move up the pay scale.

“Peo­ple think it’s a min­i­mum wage in­dus­try and we re­alise some em­ploy­ers only pay min­i­mum rates,” she said.

“We en­cour­age peo­ple to go for em­ploy­ers who look af­ter their staff and pay good rates.”

If they sup­ported bet­ter em­ploy­ers that would help the in­dus­try raise the bar over­all.

Recog­nised Sea­sonal Em­ploy­ers (RSE) work­ers are not widely used in ki­wifruit, mak­ing up only 17 per­cent. Nikki said that’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween it and the pipfruit and sum­mer­fruit sec­tors, but RSEs are crit­i­cally im­por­tant be­cause they pro­vide sta­bil­ity par­tic­u­larly for night-shifts and week­end work.

With prun­ing be­ing skilled and dif­fi­cult work it’s crit­i­cal to have a core of good work­ers able to com­plete the high­main­te­nance task, but back­pack­ers tend not to stay long in one place and many Ki­wis don’t want that work.

The in­dus­try will have to get its head around har­ness­ing the po­ten­tial of peo­ple who can’t work full-time but are more than happy to work part-time or for a few hours per day, Nikki said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.