Prime Minister Jacinda Arden was met with cheers and inundated with requests for selfies yesterday when she touched down in Te Puke and met with staff and management at Trevelyan's kiwifruit packhouse.
The trip coincided with the last day of seasonal work at the site and news this season was the biggest harvest ever. Arden, who was flanked by MPs Tamati Coffey and Angie Warren-Clark during the tour, complimented the sector for its resilience and hard work through Covid-19 but acknowledged more needed to be done to attract Kiwis into the sector.
She supported training programmes and the $200,000 the Government was investing to help people into work and meet urgent seasonal demand in the sector.
"Ultimately what you're seeing here is the industry responding to the fact that they need to find workers and have Kiwis that are available. The important part of the mix is pay rates that are attracting people into this field of work.
''So we need to make sure those that are in seasonal work have a pathway.''
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chairman Doug Brown said the labour problem was never going to go away ''simply because of the growth path we are on''.
On average, nationally the kiwifruit industry employed about 20,000 seasonal workers and this year, due to border closures, New Zealand workers displaced by Covid-19 had found jobs in the sector.
Brown said the programme to upskill New Zealanders was welcomed and it meant Kiwis could become part of the industry on an ongoing basis.
Solid careers could be carved out and ''it's not only seasonally as good workers will enviably end up with permanent jobs out of this''.
The jobs did not only include packing and picking but were right across the board from computer programmers to scientists.
Sarkar Dufkova, from the Czech Republic, has been at the packhouse on a working holiday for the past two months. She said it had been a great experience and planned to travel around New Zealand and return next year.
"I have liked learning about kiwifruit and how this company operates," she said.
She had also embraced the Kiwi culture.
Warren-Clark said Trevelyan's was a hugely successful business and she loved its approach to sustainability, wellbeing and the environment.
''It is just a beautiful mix.''
Meanwhile, two employees, Awinder Kaur and Kirwan Garccha, spoke about their own experiences with the wellness programme.
They have lost 20kgs between them and Ardern joked it sounded more like a health camp than work.
Coffey was impressed with the industry as a whole and said, ''Our primary sector has done a brilliant job in pulling us through and feeding us and continuing to operate''.
''Our kiwifruit packhouses have been instrumental in redeploying people who have lost their jobs ... this is a success story.''