One Hawke's Bay fruitgrower has revealed the eye-watering cost of bringing seasonal workers into New Zealand via managed isolation, describing the situation as a "complete train wreck".
The Government's allocation of more spaces in managed isolation for seasonal workers has had a lukewarm reception in the region.
Monday's announcement included space for a further 2400 workers under the RSE scheme, arriving mostly from Pacific island countries, by March.
It also included the allocation of 500 spaces a fortnight in managed isolation over the next 10 months to specific groups based on demand - mostly for skilled and critical workers.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the allocations would be balanced on seasonal and strategic skills shortages, seasonal variations of when overseas New Zealanders travel home, and international obligations.
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.
Yummy Fruit Company general manager Paul Paynter said the ongoing need for MIQ was a "train wreck" for growers.
"We have already spent $600,000 to bring 82 RSE workers through MIQ," he said.
"We are already 20 per cent up on labour costs. Our total labour bill for the year is more than $20 million. It's a complete train wreck."
Paynter said every year they had employed more workers than the year before, except for this year.
"When I first started with the company we had 14 full-time staff; now we have 210. For the first time in 25 years, that number is likely to go backwards this year," he said.
He said it was too early to tell whether the announcement would make a difference.
HortNZ chief executive Mike Chapman cautiously welcomed the announcement.
"Pacific workers are an integral part of the horticulture industry's seasonal workforce, particularly for harvest and winter pruning," Chapman said.
"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.
"Indeed, over the past decade, the New Zealand horticulture industry has grown by 64 per cent to $6.49 billion while in 2019, before Covid struck, more than $40m was returned to Pacific economies through the RSE scheme.
"We appreciate the Government acknowledging the need for Pacific workers due to the lack of available New Zealand workers.
"But we believe the costs to growers and employers for this new cohort are too high, given our own calculations of the actual cost of quarantine, accommodation, and meals, etc."
Chapman said given the high cost to growers and employers, they would need to make their own business decisions on whether to participate in this cohort of Pacific workers.
Crasborn Fresh Harvest CEO Andrew Common said he was thankful for the Government taking steps in the "right" direction, but the number of RSE workers allowed was not enough.
"The 500-spaces-per-fortnight allocation is quite inadequate for the needs of the industry," Common said.
Robert Popata of the Amalgamated Workers Union in New Zealand, which represents many RSE workers, said they 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.