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Saturday 25 June 2022

Industries welcome RSE boost, concerns over costs continue

11th May 2021 By Paul Yandall | | @foodtickernz

The government’s move to boost the supply of overseas workers by hundreds each month from June has been welcomed by the country’s food and beverage industries.

However, there are concerns over the cost to employers of bringing in up to 300 recognised seasonal employer workers every month and the failure to help plug the labour gap in the dairy industry.

Agriculture minister Damien O’Connor said on Monday that 500 managed isolation spaces could now be reserved for large groups every fortnight thanks to spaces being freed because of the trans-Tasman travel bubble.

Around 300 RSE workers would be allowed in every month from June to work in the agriculture, horticulture and viticulture sectors.

Damien O’Connor

“The government and food and fibre sector have been working hard to mitigate worker shortages by training and upskilling New Zealanders, but there is still the need for additional labour,” O’Connor said.

“This decision should see around 2400 more RSE workers entering New Zealand in time for next summer’s harvest season and pruning this winter. 

“This is in addition to the 7300 RSE workers currently in the country, including the 2000 the government approved to support the horticulture and viticulture industries during the recent summer harvest season.”

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said the decision to allow more RSE labourers was a “win-win” for New Zealand and the Pacific, where the workers came from.

Mike Chapman

“Pacific workers are an integral part of the horticulture industry’s seasonal workforce, particularly for harvest and winter pruning,” he said.

“They make up the shortfall in New Zealanders while at the same time enabling the horticulture industry to grow and employ more New Zealanders in permanent positions.”

But Chapman said the cost to employers of bringing in the workers was still too high given the expense of quarantine, accommodation, and meals.

“Given the high cost to growers and employers, they will need to make their own business decisions on whether to participate in this cohort of Pacific workers.”

New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said the decision would help the wine industry plan with more certainty for the rest of the year.

Philip Gregan

“At least some of these workers will arrive in time for winter pruning, a skilled role at which they excel. This decision will benefit workers, their families and our wine regions,” he said.

“The projected labour shortage has been a real concern for some regions, especially Marlborough and Central Otago, and we need this additional labour supply to meet our seasonal peak demands.” 

However, Federated Farmers said it was “deeply disappointed” that the measure did not include 500 desperately needed skilled dairy employees.

Federated Farmers employment and immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis said the country was suffering from a shortage of suitable dairy staff and there were currently 1250 jobs advertised on the Farm Source website, 100 more than in March.

“Now to have the application turned down in its entirety is really disheartening for our farmers,” Lewis said.

“We hoped that Ministry for Primary Industries and Immigration New Zealand would have seen the impact that a shortage of people has had during harvest for our horticulture colleagues and try and avoid the same problems through the peak dairy calving period.”

The government also allocated managed isolation spaces to 300 specialised construction workers between June and October, 400 international students for arrival in June, and 100 refugees every six weeks from July.



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