Visa rules give fruit industry the pip
By Barbara Withington
The Southland Times
Saturday, 22 December 2007
A worker crisis is about to hit Central Otago's export fruit industry hard early next month.
Summerfruit New Zealand chairman Basil Goodman said there were $35 million dollars of export cherries hanging on the region's trees but no one knew where to find the 3700 seasonal workers needed to pick them.
“And the situation does not look any brighter for summerfruit, apples or grapes,” Mr Goodman said.
Central Otago Mayor Malcolm Macpherson yesterday was concerned to hear about the throttled labour supply.
“If that is the situation, we have a strong case for the industry to take to Parliament.” Roxburgh orchardist Stephen Jeffery said: “It is a bloody disaster and I do not see how I am going to get enough pickers or packers.” The worker shortage had been predicted for months by orchardists after the new recognised seasonal employer policy was launched in April to allow workers from the Pacific Islands into New Zealand for up to seven months for seasonal work.
The policy axed the quick-turnaround seasonal work permits that were often used by backpackers.
Under the new policy, 230 workers from Vanuatu have been brought into Central Otago.
Mr Goodman said he had contacted every worker on his files, and advertised nationally and internationally to find workers.
“The backpackers are not here.
The cancellation of long-term work permits on September 30 has stopped the (backpacker) flow and left us with this situation,” Mr Goodman said.
John Kerr, of Commercial Backpackers in Roxburgh, said the problem of the new scheme was highlighted to him in June.
An Israeli tourist staying with him at that time said the new regulations were “too hard and too difficult” to obtain visas.
Otago MP Jacqui Deans said that she warned Immigration Minister Clayton Cosgrove earlier this year the new policy would make it harder for employers to get workers.
“His answer was to have a work permit review done,” she said.
“Any of the locals could have told him, he did not need to undertake a review. All it shows is what we know, there is a worker shortage.” A Department of Labour spokesperson said the department had worked closely during the past two years with the horticulture industry and there were a number of ways for backpackers to gain visas.
Mr Cosgrove could not be contacted for comment yesterday.