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Workforce – Kiwifruit sector update

The kiwifruit industry is one of the largest sectors in the Bay of Plenty, contributing $1.5 billion to the region in 2020.

Kiwifruit is also New Zealand's largest horticultural export with the value of exports rising $115 million (54%) this month alone.

As the 2021 season gets underway, up to 23,000 seasonal workers are required in orchards and packhouses to pick and pack this years export crop, which is forecast to surpass last year’s 157 million trays.

Bay of Connections has talked to the Ministry of Social Development, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated and the Regional Skills Leadership Group to gain their latest insights on the season ahead.

BOC_Kiwifruit Map

Ministry of Social Development

The Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) Regional Commissioner, Mike Bryant, says MSD is committed to supporting the Bay’s kiwifruit industry with their recruitment needs through industry-specific training, short-term pre-employment or in-work training, and mentoring.

“We encourage people to take up these seasonal opportunities as it can be a stepping-stone to other types of work or full-time employment. We have also been connecting with other sectors to offer consistent year-round employment opportunities.”

The social development agency has been working with several kiwifruit employers to promote relevant skills training, along with flexible and innovative employment arrangements to attract different groups of workers.

At the time of writing, there are 524 seasonal horticulture vacancies across the Bay of Plenty - these numbers change on a daily basis. Last season 1500 Bay of Plenty people moved off government assistance benefits and were supported into work in the kiwifruit sector. At the same time, many Kiwis whose jobs had been impacted by COVID-19 went into kiwifruit work without coming on to government assistance benefits.

Other MSD initiatives to support the recruitment drive include transport and relocation financial assistance on a case by case basis.

Immigration New Zealand

Immigration New Zealand is responding to desperate pleas from exporters, growers and industry leaders who are crying out for seasonal workers, a workforce traditionally filled by Pacific Island and other overseas labour markets.

With thousands of tonnes of fruit in other parts of the country already left to rot on trees, the shortage has Bay of Plenty fruit growers anxious.

Earlier this month, Immigration Minister, Kris Faafoi announced the government was looking at ways to bring in further Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers for the 2021/22 season, including a possible Pacific bubble – read more here.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI), alongside horticulture and viticulture colleagues, are in regular contact with the government on the topic of RSE workers, including a fortnightly meeting with the Minister of Immigration.

Current discussions are focused on mechanisms to allow the movement of the approved cap of 14,400 workers into New Zealand and back home again – effectively finding a way to return to normal movement of RSE workers.

There is an additional focus on allowing more than 5000 workers, who have been trapped in New Zealand due to border closures for over a year, to return home. Growers understand the situation remains fluid as New Zealand works through mechanisms to firstly open the border to the Pacific and then more widely.

Regional Skills Leadership Group

The Bay of Plenty interim Regional Skills Leadership Group (RSLG) has been looking into the sector’s key workforce challenges and opportunities. These include addressing the challenge of seasonality through cross-sector labour flows and considering career progression pathways from seasonal roles into higher-skilled permanent roles.

In addition to looking at longer-term solutions, the RSLG sees the employment opportunities provided by the current kiwifruit harvest as critical to supporting those who have lost work as a result of COVID-19’s impact on other industry sectors.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated

The 2021 kiwifruit season is forecast to be another record-breaking year with more kiwifruit produced than ever before, overtaking last year’s record for Green and Gold harvest. New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) is focused on ensuring that all of the kiwifruit will be picked and packed this season.

NZKGI CEO, Nikki Johnson, says a labour shortage may mean managers need to be more selective about when particular fruit gets picked and packed.

“The industry is extremely focussed on ensuring that all fruit is harvested. Kiwifruit is a high-value crop, last year contributing around $2 billion to New Zealand’s kiwifruit regions.

“Almost all packhouses have told us that they will be paying at least the living wage of $22.10 per hour. Kiwifruit picking is also expected to exceed the living wage with an average of $24 per hour paid last year when the minimum wage was $18.90 per hour.”

Two recent harvest taster days have proved positive with participants gaining experience picking and packing kiwifruit. The course is an NZKGI-led, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) funded initiative which gives people an insight into working in the kiwifruit industry over harvest.

In 2020, MPI funded NZKGI to run a series of winter pruning courses to provide training for people entering the kiwifruit industry as a result of COVID-19 job losses. The initiative is being revived for 2021, starting at the end of May and targeting people who have completed the harvest season and are keen to continue in the industry, as well as newcomers.

The training programme includes a one-day taster course, and for those who want to learn more, a five-day intensive training programme. To register, visit nzkgi.org.nz/winter-pruning. Employers who are interested in employing workers are also encouraged to contact NZKGI.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

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