Border exemption for Pacific workers 'a really good start', growers say

The horticulture and wine industries are welcoming the Government’s announcement this morning that it will give experienced seasonal workers border exemptions to address labour shortages. 

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Nikki Johnson says the details of the Government’s RSE border exemption scheme still need to be worked out. Source: Breakfast

Up to 2000 experienced Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers from the Pacific will be allowed into New Zealand between January and March next year.

Nikki Johnson, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive, told TVNZ1’s Breakfast the announcement was “a really good start for us”. 

She said kiwifruit growers still wanted locals to be their “primary workforce”, while the RSE workers would provide a “lift in productivity”. 

But details still need to be worked out with other parts of the primary sector industry and with the Government, Johnson said. 

She said part of it will be making sure workers are used “where they’re most needed” by moving them around as crops need harvesting at different times of next year. 

Johnson said details about which Pacific nations will be involved with the scheme also needs to be confirmed. 

“We need to understand where the spaces in MIQ actually are, making sure we’re not utilising spaces that New Zealanders would otherwise want to use,” she said. 

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the Government wants to take a staggered approach to avoid clogging up MIQ facilities and allow New Zealanders to come home if they wish to. 

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Kris Faafoi says the Government had to weigh up providing work for locals and experienced RSE workers. Source: Breakfast

He said the scheme is only beginning in January next year to avoid the Christmas rush. 

“If we can have as close a harvest as a normal, that would be good for New Zealand,” Faafoi said of the industry that contributed $6.5 billion to the country annually. 

He said the scheme balanced the need to bring in experienced workers from the Pacific, who then send remittance, and the need to give Kiwis opportunities to work. 

He said the Government will be “very much relying” on the sector to arrange where the workers go, and when, as harvests come. 

An additional financial incentive is also being offered to unemployed Kiwis who take on seasonal work. Under the RSE exception, employers will pay the workers at least $22.10 an hour and cover the cost of managed isolation.

Faafoi said the RSE workers, being experienced, “need to be compensated with that rate”.

As for locals, he said parts of the sector had indicated they were willing to pay the rate across the board. 

Workers will be paid the equivalent of a 30-hour work week while they complete managed isolation.

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Up to 2000 workers from the Pacific allowed into NZ to fill horticulture, wine industry jobs

The announcement of the RSE exemption has come as the Government also offered additional financial support to entice unemployed Kiwis into seasonal work.

The Government will contribute $200 a week for up to 13 weeks for unemployed New Zealanders who move for seasonal jobs.

It also introduced an incentive payment of $500 to be paid to the employee halfway through their contract, and another $500 to be paid at the end for jobs that last six weeks or more.

The maximum amount payable through the Seasonal Work Assistance Programme over 26 weeks has also been increased from $940 to $2149, to allow more financial security over the length of the season.

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The workers will come from the Pacific, and their employers will have to pay them at least $22.10 an hour. Source: Breakfast

Business New Zealand said it was welcoming the Government's move. 

Chief executive Kirk Hope said the move was timely. 

"Our exports industries have weathered the Covid storm well to date, but it would have been devastating to let fruit rot on the ground and cause economic damage to regions if access to workers was constrained by border restrictions,” he said. 

New Zealand Winegrowers CEO Philip Gregan said the industry “warmly welcomed” the announcement because despite its efforts to recruit local workers, growers were still projecting a shortage. 

“We have been working constructively with the Government to find a solution that balances our industry’s need for skilled workers to complete time-sensitive vineyard operations against the high demand from Kiwis for places in managed isolation and quarantine,” he said. 

But National’s Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the scheme was "too little too late".

While it is "better than nothing", Bishop said 2000 RSE workers "is not enough". New Zealand usually takes in 14,000 of them a season, he said.

"Spring and early summer crops have already missed out on these workers, but the Government has known about these problems for months, and is only acting at the eleventh hour."

He said the RSE workers shouldn't have to spend 14 days in a Government-run managed isolation. 

"Pre-departure testing and post-arrival testing in New Zealand should be compulsory, but we shouldn’t be forcing RSE workers to spend 14 days in hotels when they could isolate in accommodation provided by the industry, under strict conditions.

"This would be better for the workers themselves, better for the industry, and free up space in MIQ facilities."