The horticulture industry that saw crops of fruit and vegetable rot over summer due to Covid-19 border restrictions is welcoming a new scheme to bring in more skilled overseas workers.
The Government announcement, which includes a further 2400 workers in the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme arriving mostly from Pacific island countries by March, has also been welcomed by a union saying the scheme was a "win-win" for employers and workers.
But some industries, including dairy operators, say they are disappointed their "desperate" applications to bring in more skilled migrant workers have been rejected, with MIQ spaces going begging.
The Government on Monday announced 500 spaces a fortnight in managed isolation will be allocated over the next 10 months to specific groups based on demand - the majority for skilled and critical workers.
The Government already has a policy for at least 10 per cent of MIQ spaces to be given to these workers – out of roughly 4500 fortnightly – but this announcement means 500 would be set aside on a targeted basis.
The New Zealand horticulture industry welcomed the move to increase RSE workers.
"They make up the shortfall in New Zealanders while, at the same time, enabling the horticulture industry to grow and employ more New Zealanders in permanent positions," HortNZ chief executive Mike Chapman said.
Over the past decade, the industry had grown 64 per cent to $6.49 billion while in 2019, before Covid struck, more than $40 million was returned to Pacific economies through the scheme.
There are normally about 14,400 RSE workers a year, but the pandemic and border restrictions have cut that workforce in half.
"The RSE scheme is very much a win-win - for the Pacific and for the New Zealand horticulture industry," Chapman said.
Chapman said some issues remained, however, including high costs to growers and employers which included quarantine, accommodation, and meals.
Robert Popata of the Amalgamated Workers Union in New Zealand, which represents many RSE workers, said they too welcomed the scheme expansion, particularly on the back of last year's condition of introducing the Living Wage - currently at $22.10 - to all RSE workers.
Employers are also required to pay them 30 hours' a week while they're in managed isolation for 14 days, and cover their isolation costs.
Popata said there still needed to be "checks and balances" to make sure workers were not losing out in other ways, such as being exploited by increasing rent and food costs.
"It is a dignified way to help Pacific islander workers, give them good jobs but we need to make sure it is worth it for them, that they are able to make enough to make a better life for them back home."
Along with RSE workers, the announcement included 240 specialised construction workers between June and October, 400 international students in June (out of the 1000 previously announced), and 100 refugees every six weeks from July.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the moves would provide those industries the additional workforce needed, with continued worker shortages despite training and upskilling New Zealanders.
The extra 2400 more RSE workers in time for next summer's harvest season and pruning this winter were in addition to the 7300 RSE workers currently in the country, including the 2000 the Government approved to support the horticulture and viticulture industries during the recent summer harvest season, he said.
Exceptions have also been agreed for 40 more shearers and 125 rural mobile plant machinery operators for the 2021/2022 season, subject to labour conditions, he said.
Federated Farmers spokesman Chris Lewis said they were pleased some shearers and agricultural contractors were approved, but disappointed their plea for 500 "desperately needed skilled dairy employees" was rejected.
The pressure some farming families were under, due to a severe lack of people to work on farms, is already taking a toll on stress levels, wellbeing and health, he said.
There were 1250 jobs advertised on the Farm Source website today, 100 more than in March, he said.
A survey by DairyNZ and Federated Farmers showed 49 per cent of respondents were short-staffed and needed to employ more people, he said.
Almost half had been trying to fill a vacancy for more than three months and a quarter had a vacancy open more than six months, he said.
"We hoped that MPI and Immigration would have seen the impact that a shortage of people has had during harvest for our horticulture colleagues and try and avoid the same problems through the peak dairy calving period," Lewis said.
The allocations would be balanced on seasonal and strategic skills shortages, seasonal variations of when overseas New Zealanders travel home, and international obligations, Hipkins said.
Around 20,000 vouchers will be made available in the online Managed Isolation Allocation System over the next three months for New Zealanders wanting to return home as well, he said.
Act Party leader David Seymour said more work needed to be done to utilise all MIQ spaces.
This week there would be 1798 empty MIQ rooms, a similar number to last week, he said.
"There was no need for us to miss the entire 2020 season as the Government stood by watching fruit rotting on the ground."