Donations of warm clothes are needed for chilly seasonal workers in Northland as many find themselves stuck in the region due to Covid-19.

Fruit pickers from the Pacific Islands are feeling the pinch of winter as temperatures drop and they find themselves unable to get home with the pandemic forcing the closure of international borders.

About 240 men and women are in Northland as part of the Recognised Seasonal Employer [RSE] scheme that allows Pacific Islanders to come here for several months each year to work in horticulture.

They have been given extra work to see them through the winter but there are fears the work will run out.


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Rift Valley Orchards has taken on five men from Vanuatu this year.

Manager Gavin Joyce said the workers arrived in March on a seven-month visa to undertake kiwifruit harvest picking followed by pruning.

If the borders are not open by September, the company will have to apply for visa extensions on their behalf, he said.

They will also try and give them more work, Joyce said, though this "depends on what we have left to do".

Joyce said most men send their wages home to help their families and they were unprepared for the Kiwi winter.

His supervisor Cody Rudolph put a call out on social earlier media earlier this month for donations of warm clothes.

"They had one or two flimsy jackets, and we could see they were cold," Joyce said.


"We noticed as it started getting cooler, and thought, instead of them spending their money we'd get some for them. Then Cody put it on the internet, and it went crazy."

Rudolph said he asked the men several times if they had any warm clothes.

"They kept saying no, and I could see them just shaking in the morning, and rubbing their hands. So that day I went home and talked to my partner, cleaned out all my drawers and took some clothing in. The boys said a lot of other workers in Kerikeri also need clothes and blankets."

Worker Tasnal Pantuntun said it was the group's first time in New Zealand and they had only brought light clothing.

Seasonal workers Thompson, Tasnal, Sam, Elkam and Roma with supervisor Cody Rudolph [wearing baseball cap] are feeling the cold winter. Photo / Jenny Ling
Seasonal workers Thompson, Tasnal, Sam, Elkam and Roma with supervisor Cody Rudolph [wearing baseball cap] are feeling the cold winter. Photo / Jenny Ling

Current temperatures in Northland were quite different to Vanuatu's current average of 26 degrees Celsius, he said.

"It's too cold in the morning and at night. But the daytime it warms up and it's ok."


Pantuntun said they were sending money home to family whose jobs had been impacted by Covid-19.

Residents can drop off good quality winter clothing including coats, jackets, sweatshirts and boots to Kaeo Farm and Fuel on Leigh St and Kerikeri Baptist Church on Hobson Ave.

Kerikeri Baptist Church pastor Stuart Angus said the church had an ongoing relationship with the Vanuatu workers and was happy to receive clothing on their behalf.

A "steady lot" had already been received and would be distributed weekly to their accommodation at various Kerikeri holiday parks, he said.

Last year, more than 14,000 workers took advantage of the RSE scheme in New Zealand.

Immigration NZ said there are about 240 RSE workers with a visa condition specifying Northland as the employer's location.


Turners and Growers has 69 workers from Tonga, Kiribati and Vanuatu in Northland pruning mandarins and picking lemons.

Northland regional manager Tom Chamberlain said they are critical to the company's operations.

"Naturally, many of them want to get home to their families," Chamberlain said.

"With limited capacity on flights and some nation's borders closed, many RSE workers are unable to return home right now.

"We're doing everything we can to support them with pastoral care and ongoing work, and we're also working with the Government and industry to support repatriation activities."

Chamberlain said for the rest of its RSE workforce, T&G was "exploring and finding work in our orchards, glasshouses and packhouses".


"In addition, we've reached out to other horticultural organisations regarding employment opportunities. However, the reality is, seasonal work will soon come to an end."

An Immigration NZ spokeswoman said as part of the Government's Covid-19 response, INZ has established a process for RSE visa holders to move to other employers or regions if their employment is coming to an end.

"This has enabled RSE visa holders to continue earning and also meet the demand for picking, packing, pruning, planting and other essential tasks for growers around New Zealand," she said.

INZ advised workers who were experiencing financial difficulty to talk to their embassy or consulate for assistance.

INZ is working with other NZ government agencies and the Pacific government "to establish a safe, coordinated, and managed process for the return of Pacific workers as Pacific border restrictions allow and airline capacity increases".