Accommodation in Hawke's Bay is ready to house a share of 2000 Pacific workers who will enter the country to pick fruit in an attempt to solve the labour shortage.
The arrival of the pickers for the horticulture and wine industries was announced by Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor on Friday morning.
Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said applications for places in managed isolation are already booked, with accommodation available in Hawke's Bay.
"We've provided solutions to the government to say we can always set up our own quarantine and isolation facilities right here in Hastings," she said.
Richard Bibby, of Thornhill Horticultural Contracting, said the Angus Inn hotel, Hastings, is a viable option for a Hawke's Bay-based managed isolation facility.
"The hotel is purpose built. It's a definite option to get RSE workers into New Zealand, and into Hastings, and not fill up the quarantine facilities in Auckland," he said.
"It has ticked all the boxes as a facility that could fit. It's signed off to house 370 RSE workers over the season, so we're looking at upward of 300."
Hazlehurst said parts of Showgrounds Hawke's Bay Tomoana will also be set up as camps to house the workers after isolation.
She said while the 2000 additional workers is less than half the number in Hawke's Bay last year, it's a "great start".
"We're used to 14,000 RSE workers coming into New Zealand, but Covid has produced different ways in which we have to go about our business."
New Zealand Apples and Pears chief executive Alan Pollard said while unsure how many workers would be distributed across Hawke's Bay, work was under way to "effectively allocate the workers across employers who need them".
Hazlehurst said an additional 2808 workers would be the ideal number in Hawke's Bay.
Bibby said Thornhill will be looking at about 10 per cent of the 2000.
"That's what our allocation appears to be," he said. "We've got to see it economically viable – the fruit won't get picked otherwise. It's a no-brainer for us."
Pollard said scheduling the RSE workers arrival for early 2021 ensures MIQ spaces remain available for Kiwis who wish to return home for Christmas.
"Our first priority is to create opportunities for unemployed Kiwis to access seasonal work", he said.
"With government support and incentives, some barriers can be removed - creating opportunities that the unemployed may otherwise not be able to access".
"This announcement won't solve our labour deficit challenge, but goes some way to helping to reduce it," he added.
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said: "Our exports industries have weathered the Covid storm well to date, but it would have been devastating to let fruit rot on the ground and cause economic damage to regions if access to workers was constrained by border restrictions."
Employers will 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.
Bostock New Zealand owner John Bostock said each Pacific picker will cost an additional $6000 compared to hiring a Kiwi.
"So the incentive is to hire a Kiwi, but they are just not available," he said.
The workers will be granted a border exception and will fly in between mid-January and March.
Where the workers fly in from is still to be determined but, to qualify, the country needs an agreed plan to take back all of their RSE workers - not just those in the 2000-strong cohort - when the 2020/21 season ends.
New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said the industry employed up to 8000 workers at its peak.
"We have been working constructively with the Government to find a solution that balances our industry's need for skilled workers to complete time sensitive vineyard operations - against the high demand from Kiwis for places in managed isolation and quarantine," he said.
There are normally about 14,400 RSE workers a year, but the pandemic and border restrictions have cut that workforce in half.
There are about 6000 RSE workers from last year who have been allowed to stay and work this season, while those with Working Holiday visas expiring between October 2020 and March 2021 have been invited into the SSE (Supplementary Seasonal Employment) scheme to work in the sectors.
Of 12,300 people with such Working Holiday visas, 1300 have been transferred to SSE.