Local orchardists are expecting the planes to start arriving in October ferrying Pacific Island workers to NZ, and then some on to the Bay.

These workers must receive their first vaccination pre-departure, undertake Day 0 and Day 5 tests and complete a self-isolation period of seven days, assuming a negative Day 5 result.

This is just the tip of the needed iceberg. And Australia’s about to add to our woes.

Normally there would be 12,500 RSE workers in the country at this time, but the current number is only around 7,000, and some of these are scheduled to be returning home. The Government has authorised 14,400 RSE workers for the coming season.

Even that is a mere bandaid. Backpackers play an even larger role in fruit and grape harvesting season, and there are only about 5,000 of those in the country now, as against the pre-Covid ‘normal’ of 50,000.

Moreover, that’s just seasonal work. Shortages exist throughout the system. T&G has advertised for 150 new permanent positions as it seeks to expand apple production in Hawke’s Bay and Nelson. Like other corporate orchardists, T&G is also investing in robotics and so-called ‘2D’ orchards to improve labour efficiency and potential reduce seasonal need. That will take years to bear fruit.

Fruit growers are just one piece of the NZ primary sector labour challenge. Shortages extend from sharemilkers to woolshearers to commercial fishing to meat workers (especially halal certified) … and at all levels of operation.

So New Zealand has a much bigger ag labour problem to solve than seasonal pickers and pruners.

Australia has announced a step that could add to our woes, with their plan for an ‘Ag visa’. They plan to mount an aggressive farm worker recruitment programme built upon a special visa for overseas agricultural workers that would provide a guaranteed path to permanent residency. 

The programme aims to secure a permanent agricultural workforce for regional Australia. Says Agriculture Minister David Littleproud: 

“This is the biggest structural change to our agricultural workforce in our nation’s history. We don’t know when the backpackers will be back, but this gives us a permanent supply of workers coming into regional communities … 

“We want the next generation of migrants to grow up in regional Australia. “We’ll make it a condition that they have to stay in the regions for a further period. That way they’re more likely to put down roots, they’re kids will go to local schools, they’ll be more entrenched in the community with a secure job and less likely to leave.”

Structural change … not a bandaid. Sounds really smart. Hope NZ Immigration has a better response to this than tweaking RSE numbers!

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