National answers horticulture sector’s call for help

Allowing seasonal workers from COVID-free countries to enter New Zealand without quarantine needs to happen fast to plug the yawning gap in our horticulture sector’s workforce, National’s Horticulture spokesperson David Bennett says.

National Leader Judith Collins today called for the Government to expand its safe zone travel arrangements to include quarantine-free travel into New Zealand for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

Doing so would allow for greater numbers to enter via the Recognised Seasonal Workers (RSE) scheme, which would help address the horticulture sector’s labour-force shortfall, which the Agriculture Minister says is up to 13,500 workers, Mr Bennett says.

“New Zealand’s $6 billion horticulture sector is crying out for staff and our Pacific neighbours want the opportunity to come here.

“These are skilled workers and the effect of not having them here isn’t just rotting fruit on the ground. Many people who work in downstream jobs, such as packaging, are facing an uncertain future as their work dries up.

Once the new travel arrangements are in place, the Government could then consult with the horticulture sector on what an appropriate number of workers to bring in would be. This is likely to be at least 2000 more, Mr Bennett says.

“We had an RSE scheme that worked well prior to the pandemic. There’s no reason why we can’t expand this to bring in more Pacific Island workers, given their Covid-free status.

“This solution demonstrates how National is supporting our primary sector, especially the apple growers struggling with a lack of labour to pick crops.

“The Labour Government’s approach is hurting our regions that have substantial horticultural industries. For example, Hawke’s Bay is estimated to lose about $100 million of produce due to a lack of pickers.

“National’s approach is a positive and practical solution that will relieve pressure on our valuable regional businesses and save consumers from paying higher prices for fruit.”