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Labour / June 23, 2017

NZKGI perspective on Labour

The Labour Party’s recently announced commitment to reduce immigration by 20,000 – 30,000 people, as part of its policy announcements ahead of September’s general election, could impact on the work force needed in the kiwifruit industry, according to New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc (NZKGI) Chief Executive Officer Nikki Johnson.

The industry employs about 8,000 seasonal workers, including around 2,000 that come through Immigration New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) programme.

“The industry works hard to employ New Zealanders as a first priority, but there are not enough Kiwis to meet demand during the peak periods of harvest and pruning. The unemployment rate is low in the Bay of Plenty, so there is an ongoing need for labour from other sources, particularly as the industry grows”, says Nikki.

The kiwifruit industry’s labour needs are divided into two main areas – firstly, the need to recruit people interested in a career in kiwifruit, and secondly, the need for short-term labour from around April to September to pick and pack the harvest as well as prune vines.

”We work with local schools in the Bay of Plenty area, including the Cultivate Your Career event. We take young people out into the industry to show them what it’s about. We are trying to change the perception of younger people on the career options available in the kiwifruit industry. Kiwifruit is not just about picking, the industry needs people with a wide range of technical, scientific and commercial skills. There are many opportunities for New Zealanders to have a strong career, especially at this time of substantial growth in the industry. It’s a matter of getting our young people to understand the business opportunities.”

NZKGI works with the Ministry of Social Development to provide the Pipeline programme which works to achieve the permanent employment of New Zealanders in the kiwifruit industry. Although New Zealanders make up the majority of seasonal workers, the industry also relies on backpackers on working holidays, international students and those on short-term work permits. These include people from the Pacific Islands as part of the RSE scheme. Collectively, these people provide the labour during labour intensive periods of the season, the work of which includes night shifts and weekends”, Nikki said.

Labour’s proposed policy is aimed at reducing the number of international students taking low-value educational courses as a back-door means to gaining residency and then citizenship in New Zealand.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said a third of international students studying in private training establishments planned to seek work or residency after completing their study. A post-study work visa currently allows international students to work in New Zealand for a year.  International students are part of the kiwifruit seasonal workforce and if they are no longer available, then workers from other sources will need to be found.  The industry already works hard to employ as many New Zealanders as possible but labour shortages remain.  As the industry grows, these shortages will likely increase impacting on the kiwifruit industry’s ability to maximise its growth potential.  NZKGI will continue to work with politicians and officials to secure sufficient labour to support industry growth.

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