Kiwifruit Growers Spread Staff Net Wider Overseas

Kiwifruit growers spread staff net wider overseas

5:00AM Wednesday
March 14, 2007
New Zealand Herald

A labour shortage has been declared to help kiwifruit growers cope with the coming picking season, as Bay of Plenty packhouses are still 300 workers short.

A total of 381 seasonal vacancies were listed with Work and Income as of yesterday but only 41 unemployed people were available to fill them.

Clive Exelby, Aongatete Coolstores Ltd packhouse manager, said the lack of labour was a major difficulty for the industry.

He returned three days ago from a trip to Southeast Asia to search for workers.

“I don't just go to Southeast Asia. We could also look in Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Brazil,” Mr Exelby said.

The labour shortage declaration by Work and Income yesterday allowed seasonal work permits to be issued to overseas travellers who meet the Department of Labour criteria.

Under those criteria Mr Exelby's Katikati business is able to select up to 70 overseas people to work in the packhouses and orchard.

Its packhouse requires up to 75 people at a time for both the day and night shifts.

“We are licensed by the Immigration Department to interview [the applicants] before they are approved. It means that I'm allowed to select the people I want.”

Mr Exelby said the process gave him the chance to select reliable workers looking to earn the equivalent of one year's wages in their home country in the three-month season here.

This was their first year using overseas workers but Mr Exelby said it was always difficult getting enough New Zealand labour for the packing season.

Foreign workers had to pay their own way into the country, but the company would help them find accommodation.

A spokesman from Direct Management Services (DMS), a major kiwifruit management company, said employment levels were even worse than last year after expansion of their packing sites and an anticipated larger crop.

This year they needed 20 per cent more staff than last year.

They were refraining from using overseas workers because it involved a process with “a high level of commitment” but said that it was a path that most businesses would have to take in the future.

Ian Vandernagel, Satara general manager of operations, said the company was still in the early phases of recruiting and was not yet aware how many people they could be short for the upcoming season.

“We've been pro-active in our recruiting campaign. We use many different forms of media. Billboards, advertisements, contact with the hostels and backpackers and contacting overseas travellers on their gap year,” he said.

They were not recruiting overseas but did expect a large portion of their workers to be foreigners.

Last year, Seeka Kiwifruit Industries enticed workers out of bed on the chilly mornings with free breakfasts, lunches and the chance of winning a week-long stay in the Gold Coast, with airfares and accommodation included.