A Hawke's Bay grower says the Government's seasonal labour shortage extension process is too slow, and forced him to lay off 22 staff members at the height of the harvest.

General manager of Yummy Apples Paul Paynter said tourist workers who had applied for visa changes under the old labour shortage had to reapply when it was extended.

"They've got to wait around for a week and get their passport shipped back from Wellington, so they are not going to do that."

He said they had left at the height of the harvest.

Advertisement

"Having the seasonal labour shortage end on April 5 was spectacularly, almost the most inconvenient plausible date.

"We just needed those people for about two more weeks."

Yummy Apples had harvested about 80 per cent of its crop, but he knew some of the bigger orchards were struggling, with only 60-65 per cent of their crop harvested, as they had larger crops and needed more pickers.

"If you need to find 100 (people) it's a bit more difficult."

He said, despite the crunch, they had maintained a six days' a week working policy, but knew of orchards where workers were in the field seven days' a week.

"I know one of the big players had a 60-hour working week policy, and they've lifted it to 70 hours, and they are working seven days."

"It's like driving on the roads, you don't want to be out there driving if you are really exhausted, you are more likely to make a bad decision."

He said it was not an issue of pay, the issue is that the workers simply are not there.

He said the best solution was the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, but it needed to be changed to be fit for purpose.

"At the moment your RSE allocations, and the decision, is made on a year-by-year basis."

"We have to have at least a model where we can say, the number will go up and down, here's the criteria, if unemployment goes up your numbers are going to get cut by this much."

He said that would have flow on effects, including growers being able to invest in worker accommodation with a level of certainty that the beds will be filled.

National's horticulture spokesman Lawrence Yule said he was glad the shortage had been extended, but it was disappointing labour had been lost between it being declared and extended.

He said he understood everything was being done that could be this year, but there needed to be changes going forward.

"In the current climate we've got massive growing pressure, massive picking pressure, and very low unemployment, we need to think very differently than we might have in the past."

Immigration NZ Manager Matt Hoskin said under immigration instructions, visitors are only entitled to work for up to six weeks, and can only work in a region with a declared labour shortage.

"Immigration instructions do not allow for a variation of conditions to be granted for longer than six weeks."

Since the extension of the labour shortage, and a declaration of one in the Bay of Plenty on April 5, INZ has received 241 applications have been received and 72 of those have been approved.

The Government has promised to review the RSE scheme this year.