By: Jean Bell
The Western Bay’s kiwifruit industry has already started recruiting for thousands of seasonal workers in an effort to avoid a repeat of last year’s 1200-job labour shortage.
The harvest season starts in April but with a tight labour market – unemployment in the Bay is at just 3.5 per cent – major industry players have launched their recruitment campaigns early in the hope that potential workers will choose the Bay of Plenty over other horticulture regions.
In May the Ministry of Social Development declared a seasonal worker shortage for the first time in more than a decade, after a very good kiwifruit harvest.
MSD regional commissioner Mike Bryant said Bay of Plenty growers were being more proactive in planning and recruiting this year.
The industry has come up with a soon-to-be-launched strategy to attract workers such as backpackers and retirees to the region’s orchards and packhouses, on top of the Government last year increasing Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme cap on migrant workers by 1750 to 12,850 workers nationally.
Nikki Johnson, chief executive of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc said the industry would need around 15,000 workers across New Zealand at the peak of the harvest, about 85 per cent of which would be in the Bay of Plenty.
The number of job vacancies would depend on the size of the harvest, which would be better understood in April.
Johnson was expecting a tough labour market, given the low unemployment rate and competition from other horticulture regions and industries.
While it was still early days, EastPack CEO Hamish Simson said the situation was looking promising.
He said the company needed just over 3000 workers in the Bay of Plenty.
In addition to online and billboard advertising, the company would hold open days at its four sites – Te Puke, Edgecumbe, Ōpōtiki and Katikati – in mid-February.
The Bay of Plenty needed to sell itself to seasonal workers as the place to be, he said, given the labour demand from other parts of the country.
Seeka chief executive Michael Franks said the company needed 3500 staff in the Bay of Plenty this season.
Franks said the “acute” labour shortage last year had inspired the company to get more creative with its recruitment.
“We need more workers than are in the labour supply.”
Tauranga-based First Union organiser Graham McKean said the kiwifruit industry had a reputation for offering hard, physical work and low pay.
He said that to attract staff, it needed to up pay rates, improve hours and working conditions and ensure workers had a voice.
Last year saw a 25 per cent increase in kiwifruit production, with export revenue forecast to rise to $2.2 billion for the year ended March 2019, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries
The kiwifruit industry is not the only local industry facing a worker shortage.
1st Call Recruitment managing director Phill Van Syp said the region was “extremely short” of labour workers.
“Pretty much anyone who has skills and walks through the door has a job,” he said.
There were not enough local workers to keep up with Tauranga’s booming economy, so some companies were bringing in people from other regions or overseas.
Tomorrow, Port of Tauranga contractor ISO will hold a “mass hire day” where jobseekers could hear about 20 full and part-time port worker positions.
A bus driver shortage has also been blamed for many issues with Tauranga’s new bus network.