Orchardists take matters into their own hands amid 'dire' seasonal worker shortage

Source: 1News

The struggle to find workers in the South Island this summer is forcing orchardists and other businesses to take matters in their own hands.

Migrant worker Andrija Grubisic has filled a variety of jobs since arriving in New Zealand on a work visa around one year ago, but now, his visa is about to expire.

“We are going to have new visas. It's going to be like seasonal visas so we can work just on a farm, orchards, vineyards,” he said. “It will be like a confusing time again for us.”

Grubisic is one of the few workers who will be at the disposal of employers this summer.

In Queenstown, pressure is building ahead of what’s predicted to be a very busy holiday season.

Around 1000 workers are needed, but rules on some visas are not helping solve the crisis.

“They can only go and work in horticulture and viticulture, which is taking people out of other industries in Queenstown,” Remarkable Labour chief executive Blair McNaughton said.

“We're not solving the problem, we are just shifting the problem.”

McNaughton is now calling for visa restrictions to be eased by making them region rather than area specific so "if you are on a working holiday visa and you want to stay in New Zealand for another six months, get a job in any industry”.

However, even with favourable visa conditions, those in the fruit picking industry are still struggling to fill roles, with Central Otago district mayor Tim Cadogan calling the situation “dire”.

“The impact, if we don't get this problem solved, is going to flow through the whole economy and affect every single one of us as well as New Zealand as a whole,” Cadogan said.

Cherries at 45 South Cherries will be ready for picking in six weeks, but CEO Tim Jones says staff there are “really, really nervous” there won’t be enough seasonal workers to help pick and pack the crop.

With the borders closed due to Covid-19, roughly 5000 positions need to be filled in the summer period in Central Otago alone.

“You'll be seeing growers talking about paying for people's accommodation,” Jones said.

Immigration New Zealand said it’s not currently considering amending the overall visa policy to allow work visa holders to change their jobs.

“Please just listen to us, let's come up with a simple workable solution and let's do it quickly,” Jones said.