The Ministry of Social Development has today declared a seasonal labour shortage across the Bay of Plenty, where an additional 1,200 people are needed to pick and pack an extra 20 million trays of kiwifruit this season.
This allows foreigners on tourist visas to apply for a variation which allow them to work.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 4.4% .
Some of those people must be in the Bay of Plenty and able to work so why aren’t they?
Kiwifruit company Apata employs more than 1000 people and will harvest and store about 10 percent of the region’s kiwifruit this year.
Managing director Stuart Weston told Morning Report about 60 percent of his staff were locals, with the rest made up of workers from the Pacific and backpackers.
He said he did not think raising the pay rate would attract more local labour.
“We think that we’ve really reached the very limits of what’s available ready and willing to work, irrespective of the money.
“And that’s evidenced by the fact that already [Work and Income New Zealand] have a system of stand down if people choose not to work in our sheds and inexplicably people will choose to go hungry rather than work in a packhouse.”
He said the agency had been working hard to attract people to the industry but it had been having “decreasing levels of success”.
“We’re sending vans to Murupara, Tokaroa, Whakatāne and Rotorua – we’re just trying to reach out further and further to capture people who wish to work,” Mr Weston said.
Working with kiwifruit was hard work, and people who have been on an unemployment benefit struggled to cope with full-time work and could be unreliable, he said.
We visited a pack house earlier this year.
Our host told a similar story of going to great lengths to get locals to work including transport to and from work and a creche for workers’ children.
But if people prefer going hungry to work, what more can employers do?