Unions are calling for the government to reassess the Recognised Seasonal Employee (RSE) scheme, claiming horticultural companies regularly use it to exploit migrant workers.

But Hawke's Bay horticulturalists have rubbished the claims, with one saying his average pay for apple picking is now $23 an hour.

The region is in the midst of another summer of potential labour shortage, with growers already calling for the Government to take measures to prevent fruit from rotting on trees with no-one to pick it.

First Union spokeswoman Denise Roche said exploitation of RSE workers was a part of the horticultural industry, and it needed to pay its staff more.


"There's not a shortage of workers, there's a pay crisis.

"In other industries with insecure work, employees are paid more in recognition of this."

She said given how successful an export industry horticulture is in New Zealand, workers should be paid more to make it worth spending time away from their friends and family.

"Then there won't be a shortage."

General Manager at Yummy Apples Paul Paynter said Roche's claims were uninformed and ignorant, and most workers were well paid.

He said apple pickers were not paid per hour, but on how much they pick, but if anyone earns less than the minimum wage on any day, they top up their salary.

Paynter said the average worker at his orchard earns $23 an hour, with his best paid workers earning more than $30.

"If you actually are really efficient, you work hard, you put out the output, you'll get paid exceptionally well."


He says the worker shortage is being caused by a positive problem - Hawke's Bay has low levels of unemployment meaning fewer people need seasonal work.

It was so bad this year, it could put his company out of business, he said.

"If can pick 85 per cent of our crop, we'll be okay, but if the crisis is as bad as it could be, I'm very worried about the impacts for business."

He said the industry was working hard to recruit New Zealanders, but low unemployment it Hawke's Bay meant people did not need seasonal work.

His company sent vans to Winz every day to take people who wanted a day's work, but they never returned full.

They also employed former prisoners referred to them by Corrections, he said.

He said many New Zealanders who used to work as seasonal workers now had permanent roles in the horticultural industry.

"People who are opposed to the RSE scheme are preventing us from creating permanent jobs, good jobs for Kiwis."

National's agricultural spokesperson, Lawrence Yule has said the bumper crops and worker shortage expected amounted to what was being described as a perfect storm.

He called on the government to declare a worker shortage, allowing visas to be fast-tracked.

Last year the government increased the number of RSE workers in New Zealand from 11 100 to 12,850.