News of 2000 Pacific fruit pickers set to help out the country's horticulture and wine industries has been tentatively welcomed by the kiwifruit industry.
It's a "great start" at filling the 14,500 needed in the industry, however the cost of paying for workers' quarantine is "substantial".
Local MP Todd Muller has also called the number "pitiful" and says the Government is "disconnected from the reality" of what's happening on the ground in the industry.
But that has been rejected by Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor who said the decision strikes the right balance.
Yesterday, the Government announced 2000 workers from the Pacific would come to New Zealand early next year to pick fruit for the horticulture and wine industries.
The deal was announced by Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi and alongside O'Connor.
The arrival of the RSE workers was hoped to cover a hole in the labour force and avert what many growers have been calling a crisis.
Trevelyan's Pack and Cool human resource manager Jodi Johnstone said they hoped the kiwifruit industry would benefit from a large proportion of the incoming RSE workforce because they were desperately needed for the 2021 harvest.
"The border closed as our teams were starting to come in last year, where the apple industry, for example, already had their teams here and have retained greater numbers of these teams."
She said they were waiting to see how the allocation process would work, and they "will certainly be pushing for our share of the 2000".
"While the costs are significant and this wasn't what we had hoped to hear, our experienced RSEs are critical to the success of our business," she said.
"We need to figure out how to make it work."
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson said 2000 workers was a "great start" given the limited quarantine spaces, and the industry was in talks over other ways to get them in.
This included discussions with the Government on industry-managed quarantine facilities and the potential for a Pacific bubble.
She said the costs of bringing workers in through managed isolation were "substantial" and employers would need to consider whether it was feasible.
In their announcement, the Government stated employers would have to pay the workers a living wage of $22.10 an hour, pay them 30 hours' a week while they're in managed isolation for 14 days, and cover their isolation costs - estimated at $4472 a worker.
The Government-managed isolation facilities were currently the only option.
"In the meantime, we now have access to 2000 workers which is a great start."
Johnson said the exact number of RSE workers set for the region was still unknown, but they would work with other horticultural groups over coming weeks to get a better idea of how many, with workers going to sectors that most need them.
These workers would likely first come to the region in March with the peak kiwifruit harvest from March to June, and winter pruning from July to September.
Workers under the Registered Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme provided an essential baseline workforce for times like weekends and nightshifts which Johnson said was difficult to staff with New Zealanders.
Johnson said the workers would support kiwifruit productivity which would manifest in employment growth and improved economic returns, as well as supporting Pacific economies.
New Zealanders were still the industry's first priority, she said, which has, and will continue, to run programmes to train and attract locals in anticipation of vacancies.
Estimations show about 14,500 people are working on kiwifruit orchards in the Bay of Plenty now and when the harvest kicks off next year that number would increase to 20,000 - with more jobs up for grabs.
NZKGI spends $100,000 annually on its labour attraction strategy as well as taster and training courses with support from the Ministry for Primary Industries.
The courses attract New Zealanders who have not previously worked in the industry, helping them upskill quickly.
"Attracting workers for the harvest season which starts in March is currently our focus and we will not understand the extent of any shortages until much closer to this time."
Horticulture NZ chief executive Mike Chapman welcomed it but warned about possible labour shortages for the spring 2021 and harvest 2022 seasons.
Local MP Todd Muller has slammed the Government's "pitiful" 2000 RSE workers being brought in.
He said 2000 for the whole country "is nowhere enough to facilitate the largest harvest in our sector's history with our kiwifruit industry needing 8000 people next year".
He said the announcement showed the Government was "disconnected from the reality" on the ground, and not particularly helpful for the kiwifruit industry.
On top of the lack of workers, Muller stated it made no sense to put the workers into quarantine for 14 days when the Pacific source countries were Covid-free.
The local kiwifruit industry had fit-for-purpose onsite accommodation which could be used for the isolation as required instead, he said.
"It's time to start thinking outside the box, our export success depends on it. This response is too conservative, too bureaucratic, too late and too costly."
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the Government's decision to allow 2000 RSE workers into New Zealand early next year strikes the right balance.
"The Government needed to weigh up a number of competing factors including the right of New Zealanders to return home, the number of people entering under already agreed border exceptions, and the needs of many other industries and sectors."
He said they wanted New Zealanders who had lost their jobs because of Covid to have the opportunity to get seasonal work, and there were already 6000 RSE workers in New Zealand ready to work.
"Todd Muller is disconnected from reality if he thinks New Zealanders want our Government to loosen border controls and risk Covid coming in."