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Kiwifruit industry wants more kiwi pickers and packers

Workers from COVID-19-impacted hospitality, tourism, and forestry industries are invited to join the harvest

With people’s work situation changing rapidly due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the kiwifruit industry is extending a message to everyone from the coronavirus-impacted hospitality, tourism, and forestry industries, or anyone who may not have sufficient work due to the ongoing situation to join harvest season.

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New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) chief executive officer Nikki Johnson says the sector is expecting a harvest of around 155 million trays of kiwifruit this year and expects to need more than 20,000 workers across the harvest and post-harvest period.

Johnson says significant volumes of kiwifruit are expected to be harvested next week and remain high well into April. Final picking takes place in June.

“The gold kiwifruit are ready first and it’s a very short turnaround to get that fruit off the vines and into the packhouses. Then the green variety will be ready and it’s full on till early winter.”

Nikki adds the industry’s biggest challenge is to find the seasonal labour required and avoid a labour shortage. After encountering a shortage of 1200 workers at the start of the 2018 harvest, NZKGI developed and implemented a labour attraction strategy for the 2019 harvest which was largely successful, she says.

“The thrust of the strategy last year was to get the best information out to potential workers that we could, correcting any false perceptions about the work and pay, and use every channel available, particularly through social media, to tell people about the work available.”

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As a result, a possible labour shortage of 3500 workers was avoided in 2019, though the industry and government did take the precaution of opening up kiwifruit work to visitors to New Zealand who didn’t have a work visa, which enabled the industry to recruit an additional 477 workers.

Nikki says a key focus of the 2020 strategy is on attracting Kiwis into seasonal roles.

“While working holiday visa (WHV) holders – backpackers – coming to New Zealand provide a lot of the seasonal labour for our sector and others, we’re keen to ensure that, as a first priority, we make these roles available to kiwis looking for work.

“We would love to see more Kiwis coming into the industry, particularly if they’re located close to the orchards and packhouses, not just for seasonal roles but also long-term employment in the sector or permanent roles, as well as retirees and students seeking work in the orchards and packhouses. Kiwifruit work is almost year-round, once you factor in all the orchard maintenance work that’s required during the off-season.” 

Johnson says the labour strategy seeks to get full information about the types of roles, pay rates, working conditions and employee rights within the industry to those seeking work.

“We also make a point of stressing the tourist attractions of the kiwifruit-growing regions for backpackers since that’s mostly why they are here.”

NZKGI is also working hard to try to lessen some of the barriers to working in the industry, such as pressure on accommodation and transport challenges, says Nikki.

“We welcome anyone into the sector – there’s plenty of good work available at good rates of pay, and it’s a great industry to work in.”

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