Important back-to-back announcements might pave way for additional harvesting labour for Hawke’s Bay, although our region will still be thousands short as matters stand.

On Friday the Government announced it would admit 2,000 more RSE workers into the country, but not until after Christmas to reserve quarantine spaces for returning Kiwis. The additional workers come with significant strings attached — growers must may the ‘minimum living wage’ of $22.10/hour to these workers, as well as all quarantine costs. It’s not clear how many of these workers might wind up in Hawke’s Bay.

And at a press briefing also on Friday, Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, flanked by industry reps, noted the region’s plan just submitted to government by herself and Mayor Kirsten Wise to address the critical seasonal labour challenges being faced by the horticulture and viticulture sectors in Hawke’s Bay.

The mayors, along with a number of industry representatives, delivered the plan to Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi at Parliament last week – the first region in the country to do so.

‘The Plan’ is yet to see the light of day, despite efforts by BayBuzz and HB Today to obtain it, so its details — exactly who is making what commitments and when — are yet unclear. Asked at the press briefing when it would be available, grower John Bostock responded “in due course”.

The mystery plan makes some bold longer-term commitments, including:

  • The creation of 1000 permanent jobs in the next five years
  • Increasing pay rates for workers (when asked if the Government’s requirement that the 2,000 new RSE workers be paid the minimum living wage would be extended to other harvest workers, the answer was a vague ‘we’ll work that out’)
  • Work to effectively support New Zealand workers entering the workforce (e.g. provision of seasonal and permanent roles), and an effective staircase through to valuable and well-paying permanent employment for a range of New Zealanders with challenging circumstances.

It will be healthy for the region to see these commitments carried through.

In the meantime, the briefing made clear that growers are leaving no stone unturned to recruit immediate workers, including providing camping space and accepting 16-year-olds at this stage. The big crunch will come after January when apple harvesting begins … the most demanding job in the season.

Apart from admitting more overseas workers, growers are also asking central government to provide space at quarantine facilities for RSE workers for the upcoming thinning and picking season as well as to approve a plan to accommodate returning RSE workers from Covid-free Pacific Island countries at a government-run isolation facility in Hawke’s Bay.

Photo: Alan Pollard (NZ Apples & Pears), Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, John Bostock (Bostock NZ), Richard Bibby (Thornhill Horticultural Contracting)

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