Growers in New Zealand’s fruit-bowl regions are expecting bumper harvests this season but are struggling to find workers, a problem the Government should have the tools to address, National’s Horticulture spokesperson Lawrence Yule says.

“Fruit and grape growers were grateful that the Government lifted the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme cap last year but that doesn’t go nearly far enough in a season some are calling a perfect storm of big crops and a worker shortage.

“The Government could declare a seasonal worker shortage, a situation that would allow work visas to be fast-tracked, as they were late in the 2018 season. But duty minister Andrew Little has indicated the Government is disinclined to act.

“The Government has tried to kick this issue for touch by announcing a review of the RSE scheme sometime in 2019 while saying growers should do more to attract local workers. The simple fact is there aren’t enough local workers.

“Seasonal fruit won’t wait for another round of consultation. Pressing problems need practical solutions. New Zealand Apples and Pears is expecting a record harvest of up to 600,000 tonnes of fruit.

“Kiwifruit growers are also bracing for a golden harvest and the signs are that grape volumes will be big. They’ll be competing with summer fruit orchards for workers and the word in many regions is that there just aren’t enough locals available.

“Both the horticulture and viticulture industries have enjoyed strong growth in recent years, and kiwifruit has staged a remarkable comeback led by gold fruit. Growers say they have no problem with the job seekers referred by the Ministry of Social Development but they aren’t enough.

“A National Government would favour pragmatic solutions that help meet the immediate needs of growers while encouraging local job seekers. The Government must be more nimble in responding to the needs of export industries that underpin New Zealand’s growth.”

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