By RNZ

The apple and pear harvest is getting under way, although with very strict rules in place for picking, packing, and shipping fruit.

New Zealand Apples and Pears chief exective Alan Pollard said they know they were in a privileged position to be able to keep operating during the lockdown.

More than 14,000 workers are harvesting about 600,000 tonnes of fruit, destined for both domestic and global markets.

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However, Pollard said there were still a lot of job vacancies.

Some workers from the Pacific were able to arrive before the harvest, but the industry was also working with Work and Income to fill some of the gaps.

Pollard said their priorities were to ensure the safety of workers and prevent any spread of Covid-19.

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

"We can assure the public that employers in the apple and pear industry are doing all they can to make their workplaces the safest they can be, whether that's in the orchard, the packhouse or in support roles," he said.

"Our employers and our workers take their responsibility to themselves and the community very seriously."

Pollard said some workers had organised themselves so they live, travel and work together.

"So, when you see a group of people in a vehicle, they are most likely to be a group who live together, travel together and work together without leaving their bubble."

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The industry has worked closely with government agencies to ensure that it complies with a number of regulator guidelines, including the Ministry of Health, Ministry for Primary Industries, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, and WorkSafe, Pollard said.

"The additional physical distancing and sanitisation protocols that we have put in place are independently audited by the authorities and that forms the basis of our right to remain operating," he said.