Jamie Gray is a business reporter for the NZ Herald

Orchards facing labour shortage threat

The harvest normally starts in mid-February but this time around it will be late this month before picking gets under way. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today
The harvest normally starts in mid-February but this time around it will be late this month before picking gets under way. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today

A late start to the season means apple growers will face a race against time to have their fruit picked, raising concerns about the availability of labour.

The harvest normally starts in mid-February but this time around it will be late this month before picking gets under way, thanks to the weather.

With the late start to the season, the harvest window has shortened, putting more pressure on labour resources and raising concerns about whether the thousands of workers brought from overseas under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme will be enough to cope.

"When you are talking about 560,000 tonnes of fruit, it's a massive wall of fruit," Gary Jones, business development manager at Pipfruit NZ. "It's going to be very intense," he said.

Under RSE, about 3500 workers come into Hawkes Bay, 1500 to Nelson and 1000 in Central Otago.

"Because it is such a huge crop, a lot of pressure comes on," he said.

Pipfruit NZ works closely with Work and Income New Zealand to ensure New Zealand workers are prepared.

In Hawkes Bay, the secotr takes in 3500 RSEs, around 1500 in Nelson and 1000 in Central Otago.

"There are some concerns from some of those who don't have access to big pools of RSE workers whether they will have enough workers to pick the crop," he said.

Jones said a good picker can earn up to $250 a day and over $1000 for a six day week picking apples.

Pipfruit NZ is making approaches to the government to have work permit rules relaxed for those on visitors visas to be able to gain employment in the orchards.

That will involve the government declaring a "seasonal labour shortage" to help fill the gaps.

- NZME.

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