Cultural mix pours in for seasonal graft

By Juliet Rowan

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PICK OF BUNCH: Seasonal workers are arriving from around the globe for kiwifruit season at Trevelyan's in Te Puke. From left front: Sarah Nguyen (Vietnam), Mae Sek (Malaysia); centre: Jay Chuang, Jyun Hong (Taiwan), Kevin Ng (Malaysia); back: caravan park manager Sandy Lynn, Daniel Werner (Germany), packhouse manager Teei Fairburn, Tom Huebner (Germany).PHOTO/GEORGE NOVAK
PICK OF BUNCH: Seasonal workers are arriving from around the globe for kiwifruit season at Trevelyan's in Te Puke. From left front: Sarah Nguyen (Vietnam), Mae Sek (Malaysia); centre: Jay Chuang, Jyun Hong (Taiwan), Kevin Ng (Malaysia); back: caravan park manager Sandy Lynn, Daniel Werner (Germany), packhouse manager Teei Fairburn, Tom Huebner (Germany).PHOTO/GEORGE NOVAK

There is an air of anticipation at Trevelyan's in Te Puke.

The kiwifruit season is about to kick into high gear and workers are arriving from around the globe to begin the mammoth task of packing more than 15 million trays of kiwifruit for 250 growers across the North Island.

Trevelyan's extensive coolstore and packhouse facility is based at a 20ha site on No1 Rd and last year employed workers of 42 nationalities for the season.

About 1500 temporary staff were expected to help the company's 150 permanent employees between March and June, when the facility operated seven days a week.

The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend visited Trevelyan's this week and found a group of about 100 workers being briefed on operations set to begin the following day.

They were gathered in the large staff cafeteria and heard how picking of two more kiwifruit blocks was set to begin in earnest.

Packing had begun the previous week and Trevelyan's recently installed a new $3 million fruit handling machine to help with the task. Three extra coolstores and a new packhouse had also been added to make a total of 33 coolstores and five packhouses on the site.

Teei Fairburn was one of eight packhouse managers at Trevelyan's and worked four days on and one off during the kiwifruit season.

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The mother-of-three had worked each season for 10 years and said the biggest challenge with the multinational workforce was the language barrier.

"But we manage," she said. "A lot of travellers can speak five different languages so they're handy to have."

During the season, Trevelyan's recruited foreign workers on both Working Holiday visas and under the Government's Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

Some international staff worked in the human resources department, acting as initial points of contact for people wanting to sign up for temporary work.

Mae Sek from Malaysia and Sarah Nguyen from Vietnam were two who were tasked with greeting potential recruits and helping them with the application process.

Mae, 31, speaks Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese, English and basic Japanese, and said she and Sarah worked hard to make the newcomers feel at ease.

"We try our best to pronounce their names correctly and we try to understand their culture as well," she said.

Mae is on a one-year Working Holiday visa and planned to go to the South Island after the season. "I'm really excited to be here. It's one of my bucket-list destinations."

Sarah, 25, graduated from university two years ago and had already been working in an office in Vietnam before she came to Trevelyan's.

"It's a good chance for me to improve myself and [the money] is quite good."

Under the RSE scheme, Trevelyan's was also employing 10 workers from Turangi.

Human resources manager Jodi Johnstone said after PSA hit in 2010, the company tried to show loyalty to New Zealand workers, but with kiwifruit production surging, the firm was again needing to employ temporary recruits from overseas.

Jodi travelled to Vanuatu and Samoa in December to hire seasonal RSE workers and said many were grateful for the opportunity.

"People really want to come because there's such a need. There's definitely a lack of opportunity to earn a living in those countries."

A group of 27 recruits from Vanuatu were fishing at Pukehina the day we visited Trevelyan's, and most of the Samoans were yet to arrive, but we found a group of seasonal workers at Trevelyan's caravan park, which provided accommodation to some of the temporary workforce.

Sandy Lynn manages the caravan park, where extra Portacoms were being installed to create another living area, laundry and bathroom for the seasonal influx.

Sandy is beginning her fourth season as manager and said it was a great environment.

"We've got some really lovely people here at the moment. It's always sad to see them go."

She said there was always an element of cultural difference (she was once shocked to find a pig's head bought by Samoan workers in the kitchen) but Teei Fairburn said some workers come from countries where they are used to killing their own food rather than going to the supermarket.

Teei and Sandy were sitting in the caravan park's shared living area, where a group of recruits was preparing to begin work the next day.

Tom Huebner of Germany had returned after working at Trevelyan's at the end of last season, and the 29-year-old said he and his wife were saving to travel to the United States after their visa ran out in July.

"Trevelyan's is a lovely place," he says. "There are lots of different nationalities."

Daniel Werner, also from Germany, was another returnee, saying he had earned more doing repacking (rechecking fruit) at Trevelyan's at the end of last season than picking apricots and cherries in Central Otago during the summer.

"It was the best money yet in New Zealand."

Daniel got paid $16 an hour for repacking, and would get $16.50 for working night shifts this season.

Friends Jay Chuang and Jyun Hong came to Trevelyan's from Taiwan, and Kevin Ng from Malaysia. The trio were in their 20s and said the money was better than in their home countries.


Kiwi Corral, next to Kiwifruit 360 at Paengaroa, is another location where many seasonal workers stay.

The facility provided accommodation to 300 RSEs and was licensed for 500, making it one of the biggest accommodation providers for seasonal workers in the country, said manager Wes Archer.

Mr Archer said 75 per cent of the RSEs had worked previous seasons, and they came to the Bay from Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and the Solomon Islands.

"We're a village inside of a village here with the size that we are," he said. "It's just one big community."

Mr Archer had been manager of the 9-year-old facility for four years and said the relationships that developed between the workers were phenomenal, resulting in very few problems.

"These guys are here to work because they come from places where there is little or no opportunity to earn money," he said.

Kiwi Corral is alcohol-free and there are no workers under 20 recruited as RSEs.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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