Stressful summer ahead as growers grapple with worsening labour shortage

Source: 1News

A stressful summer is ahead for growers as they grapple with a worsening labour shortage.

While the first group of Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers who can bypass two weeks in MIQ have arrived, the industry says it’s not enough to plug the gaps.

“In summer, things have to be done within five days of the vines being ready and with harvest, it has to be within one or two days so if you're a day behind, then you'll never catch that day up,” Fine Craft Labour Supplies’ Michiel Eradus said.

An RSE worker helps harvest fruit.

Dog Point Vineyard in Marlborough is largely organic and all its grapes are hand-picked, requiring about 100 workers at peak times.

“The pinch point is fast approaching,” Anna Dunne said.

“If we don't start looking after the vines, doing the canopy management tasks we'll bear the brunt of it when it comes to harvest because we just won't have the quality grapes.”

A new scheme allowing RSE workers from Tonga, Vanuatu and Samoa to travel to Aotearoa without going through MIQ is expected to bring in around 1400 extra staff before Christmas.

Strict health measures are in place, with all workers requiring at least one vaccination before travelling. They must also isolate at their place of work for at least one week and are tested multiple times for Covid-19.

New Zealand Ethical Employers’ Tanya Pouwhare says it’s “a thankful relief, however it's not a fix-all”.

“We've got a deficit of around 18,000 coming into growing and harvest season,” she said.

While growers struggled last year, the situation is expected to worsen this year as borders remain closed and fewer backpackers on working holiday visas are able to lend a helping hand.

“There is, maybe, a number of backpackers but they go to one person and the next day, they go to someone else and someone else. There's no consistency,” Eradus said.

Around 7000 RSE workers are in the country, with most having arrived before the pandemic.

“People want to go home. They've been here for two years - they're meant to be here for seven months,” he said.

Pouwhare said she believes the yield will be affected “across the industries - kiwifruit, apples, summer fruit and even grapes”.