Growers prep for influx of workers from measles epidemic zone as outbreak tightens grip on Pacific

As the measles outbreak in the Pacific continues to strengthen its grip, growers and contractors in regions around New Zealand are preparing for an influx of workers from the epidemic zone.

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Contractors are taking precautions as the annual influx of thousands of workers approaches. Source: 1 NEWS

Sixty per cent of Thornhill Contractors' seasonal workers in Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough come from Samoa.

“If we don't get the workers in, or the workers can’t work to their full potential, then we will be struggling,” Richard Bibby told 1 NEWS.

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They are taking new precautions as the picking season ramps up.

“Our policy is that unless they are vaccinated, we won’t be recruiting them.”

The new requirement is bold, considering the industry's already struggling for workers.

Around 14,000 will come from the Pacific islands under the Recognised Seasonal Employment scheme this season.

Many will live in shared accommodation and mix with the community while they're here. For Thornhill, an outbreak would be a disaster in the busy harvest.

“We’ve got major issues with the accommodation. We would have to shut the accommodation down until we could isolate and put in preventative measures.”

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Some with severely sick children are turning to alternative treatment, sparking major concerns, 1 NEWS Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver reports. Source: 1 NEWS

For the first time, Hawke's Bay District Health Board has held a workshop advising employers and growers how to be prepared.

“We've requested that they provide us with a list of all their employees and their immune status so should someone come down with it we will know who is actually immune,” Medical Officer of Health Nick Jones said.

Seasonal workers do go through health screening for diseases like tuberculosis before they arrive in New Zealand but currently there are no vaccination requirements, as with any visa applicant.

The DHB believes it could be helpful and something to be worked towards.

“I think as this workforce grows and the importance to the economy grows, there is a case for looking at a more programmatic approach to this," Dr Jones said.

However, industry body Horticulture New Zealand is reluctant to make vaccination mandatory as it could rule out potential workers.

“For some communities within the Pacific, it’s very difficult to be vaccinated and timely vaccinated, so that would mean that certain groups would be excluded from the scheme,” Jerf Van Beek said.

The Ministry of Health says it’s “currently working with DHBs and MBIE to look at ways we can minimise the threat of disease spread and to protect those involved in the Regional Seasonal Employer Scheme, while they are in New Zealand and when they return home at the end of the working visa.”