High physical demands, long hours, a lack of stability, low wages and high living costs are being touted as the reasons the kiwifruit industry is struggling to fill 1200 jobs.
The Ministry of Social Development declared an official seasonal labour shortage in the Bay of Plenty this week for the first time in more than a decade, as the industry struggles to get workers for the harvest.
However, Priority One's Annie Hill said not enough people were willing and able to take up employment in the kiwifruit industry.
"A proportion of those unemployed are not well prepared to start work and jobs in the kiwifruit industry can be physically demanding and not very highly paid," Hill said.
She said the housing market also had a considerable impact on the labour shortage in the kiwifruit industry.
"If those on the minimum wage are taking home $540 a week and housing costs are $350-$400 a week, that doesn't leave much for other living expenses," she said.
Hill said global kiwifruit prices had increased, which could result in higher wages to help attract more workers to the industry.
"As much work in the kiwifruit industry is physically demanding, flexibility in the hours worked and the roles undertaken would also make the sector more attractive to work in," she said.
The shortage meant overseas people with visitor visas could apply for a Variation of Conditions, which would allow them to work through the declaration period from May 7 to June 8.
Tauranga Regional Multicultural Council president Ann Kerewaro said it was commonsense to attract more immigrants and visitors on working visas to the industry.
"New Zealanders are not going to do the job, they don't want to do it - not unless you pay them $30 an hour," she said.
"It is a vital job for our economy. [Kiwifruit] are not going to pick and grade themselves."
Kerewaro said it was mostly Pacific Islanders looking for seasonal work and they were happy to do it.
"For some of them it helps their families. They send most of their money back home for their families," she said.
Kerewaro suggested international advertising offering short-term employment in the kiwifruit sector would help to attract more international workers.
First Union general secretary Dennis Maga believed people were looking for job security over seasonal employment and the wages and work conditions were "not attractive".
"We would like to see the Government making sure the rights of foreign workers will be protected," he said.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers chief Nikki Johnson said pickers could expect to be paid about $21 an hour, which was more than in previous years.
"More physically demanding areas of the kiwifruit industry, such as picking and pruning, are paid more than the less physically demanding areas such as packing kiwifruit," she said.
Johnson said the industry was aware of the issues around instability of seasonal work because of weather and was finding ways to address the issue.
"To date this season weather has not been a significant factor and work is consistently available," she said.
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said 80-100 workers from Western Bay Work and Income sites could meet the labour shortage.
Bryant said a strong kiwifruit season, fewer international students, a bounce-back from the PSA virus and a low unemployment rate in the region had led to the shortage.
The ministry's priority was to secure long-term employment but it recognised the demand for short-term labour.
"Not all jobseekers are suitable for this type of work – it a physical job and ill health, childcare, accommodation availability, may limit who is available to do the work," Bryant said.
A Zespri spokesman said the region's labour shortage was not expected to delay fruit reaching markets.
Working in kiwifruit
• There are about 1200 additional vacancies in the Bay compared to last season
• About 550 on-orchard vacancies and 660 post-harvest vacancies
• 1032 people have been employed between January and April
• The target is at least 1600 job placements by the end of the main kiwifruit season in June 2018
• Usual placement is 1400-2000 every year
Source: Ministry of Social Development
WANT TO WORK IN THE KIWIFRUIT INDUSTRY?
- Visit, www.immigration.govt.nz/documents/forms-and-guides/inz-1020-application-for-variation-travel-conditions_april-2016_fa_web.pdf
- Through Work and Income, the Ministry of Social Development works to identify and place suitable jobseekers into vacancies
- The 'Pipeline' programme places people into work in the orchards
- The New Zealand Seasonal Work Scheme brings New Zealanders from outside the region into the region to work
Source: Ministry of Social Development
HOW ARE WORKERS PROTECTED?
- This year, the industry has implemented a compulsory compliance programme for employers
- All employers working in kiwifruit must be registered and audited to meet GlobalGAP requirements for looking after workers
- Growers are required to ensure any labour contractor is approved
- NZKGI strongly encourages any employees who experience issues to contact the Labour Inspectorate and NZKGI
- NZKGI is in discussions with industry and government stakeholders around mechanisms to create permanent seasonal employment opportunities which allow employees to work in kiwifruit almost all year round
Source: New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc