RNZ

The wine industry is facing criticism for continuing harvest during the Covid-19 lockdown, and is facing problems with worker accommodation.

The government says the grape and wine industry can continue to operate as an essential business, but strict conditions apply as the country moves to contain the spread of Covid-19.

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Some Marlborough people have noticed the hundreds of workers travelling to work in vineyards all over the district, and have questioned whether this was safe in the current climate.

A teacher, Sarah Gray, expressed her concerns to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment in a letter.

She wrote that a "very large proportion of staff" were working 24-7 in more than 100 wineries, and travelling between hundreds more vineyards throughout Marlborough and Nelson.

She believed many had come from overseas in the last two to four weeks.

"Most importantly there are local cellar hands, lab workers and harvest contractors who are terrified that they are going to bring Covid-19 back into their households and who cannot quit their jobs for fear they will never work in Marlborough again."

Gray said they were all working crazy hours and the focus seemed to be on getting the grapes in, and not stopping the spread of the virus.

"I am a teacher at a local school and I love a glass of wine, but this is crazy."

New Zealand Wine Growers chief executive Phillip Gregan said the industry, now at peak harvest, was working around the clock to ensure harvest workers complied with tough new health and safety rules.

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He said coming to grips with tough new health and safety rules was like trying to build a plane while it is flying.

It had been made clear to grape growers that if they could not follow the rules then they would have to shut down, Gregan said.

"The first requirement from the government is to stop the spread of the virus, so what all our growers and wineries are doing is making changes in their business operations to make sure that directive is met."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

- RNZ