Relief for growers as first workers under new scheme arrive from Vanuatu

Sean Hogan
Source: 1News

There will be sighs of relief from growers as workers arrive from the Pacific on Monday to help harvest.

This will be weighed with the responsibility of ensuring the new seasonal worker scheme works.

The first flight is set to touch Christchurch Airport’s tarmac just before 7am with 154 fruit pickers and other agricultural workers from Vanuatu. They are part of a new programme which lets them skip an MIQ stay to do a seven-day isolation stint at their place of work.

People from Samoa and Tonga will join those from Vanuatu from October 12.

Hawke's Bay plum orchadist, Mark Vesty, is one of 26 employers taking part in this new scheme.

He has cabins in Hastings which can hold up to 14 people.

He thinks it’s a win for the industry, which has been crying out for labour since the borders closed.

“Its ground-breaking. It's so important for our business, all the horticultural people, to be able to get their staff in without excessive costs.

“I’ve been in MIQ myself not so long ago, so I know how it operates and I think we can do a good job.”

Employers, such as Vesty, are flying these workers into the country, and then flying or busing them to their accommodation in various parts of New Zealand including Hawke's Bay, Central Otago, and Nelson/ Marlborough.

They'll spend seven days in isolation, having to do day zero and day five Covid tests, but are able to go to work during that time. The workers have to had at least one vaccination before arriving in New Zealand, and will have to get their second jab here, if they haven’t already had it.

1News understands accommodation providers will be randomly audited and if they’re not obeying the rules, they may lose the right to use the quarantine-free travel exemption.

Covid–19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has full confidence in employers.

“They know that their ability to have that access to those workers depends on them doing the right thing so we are seeing a very good degree of cooperation.”

That's something Summerfruit chief executive Kate Hellstrom agrees with.

"We know that we are being watched carefully and it’s a privilege and we need to get it right.

“We’ve got an 18,000 shortage of seasonal workforce and that goes right across all of our peak seasons.”

The bulk of the first load of workers are heading to Central Otago, where 10,000 tonnes of cherries are almost ready to be picked. The rest are going to Marlborough.