Kiwi catastrophe? Labour shortage declared as half of kiwifruit crops yet to be harvested

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

It is forecast that over 20% more trays of kiwifruit will be picked and packed this season. ©iStock
It is forecast that over 20% more trays of kiwifruit will be picked and packed this season. ©iStock
New Zealand officials have declared a labour shortage in the Bay of Plenty, where 1,200 vacancies need to be filled to harvest kiwifruit amid rising overseas demand, especially from China.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) said it supports the Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) declaration of a labour shortage.

The Bay of Plenty has now entered its peak period of the kiwifruit harvest and it is hoped the declaration will help fill an estimated 1,200 vacancies.

NZKGI CEO Nikki Johnson said: “This year we have experienced the perfect storm of a larger harvest coupled with a deficit of backpacker and international student seasonal workers. We estimate that there are 1,200 vacancies currently available for picking and packing kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty.”

She added kiwifruit industry employers have been working closely with MSD to place New Zealanders in vacant roles, but many locals do not see the jobs as desirable, even those on welfare benefits.

Between January and April 2018, MSD has placed 1,032 job seekers into the kiwifruit industry but have been unable to fill all positions.

The declaration of a seasonal labour shortage allows overseas visitors, who already hold visitor visas, to apply to vary the conditions of their visas for working in kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty.

Industry growth

It is forecast that over 20% more trays of kiwifruit will be picked and packed this season in comparison to the 120 million trays last year.

Johnson added: “Attracting New Zealanders to participate in the harvest is our first priority and over 60% of our seasonal workforce comes from New Zealand. However, during the peak of harvest, other sources of workers such as those from the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme and backpackers are required.

“The industry is in an exciting growth phase and to achieve this, we must have sustainable seasonal labour. The industry will be having a robust discussion with Government around increasing the number of workers available under the RSE scheme as well as other avenues to meet demand during harvest.”

NZKGI has been analysing current and future labour demands of the kiwifruit industry and expects to have the results available in the coming months. This information will help formulate and execute a plan to deal with industry growth projections. It is forecast that the kiwifruit industry contribution to the Bay of Plenty’s GDP will increase 135% by 2030 to $2.04b and require 14,329 new kiwifruit jobs.

The kiwifruit industry is an important contributor to the local Bay of Plenty economy, currently contributing $867m to the region's GDP and employing 10,762 full-time employees in the year 2015/2016.

The last declaration of a labour shortage for the kiwifruit industry was made in 2004 when the unemployment rate in the Bay of Plenty was 4.8%. The current unemployment rate is 5.1%.

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