One of NZ's biggest fruit exporters says overseas seasonal worker scheme doesn't go far enough

Some working in one of the country's biggest fruit exporter say the Government’s overseas seasonal worker scheme doesn't go far enough.

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Seeka’s Michael Franks says he’d take 60 per cent of whole 2000 workers being brought in from the Pacific. Source: 1 NEWS

Seeka says crippling quarantine costs and lower prices for some kiwifruit means employers won't be able to pay what the Government is demanding.

The company employs thousands as it exports 34 million trays of kiwifruit and a million trays of avocados each year.

If it could, it'd snap up 60 per cent of the 2000 seasonal workers the Government announced would be allowed into the country.

"We understand the Government drive to employ New Zealanders first. We are working with Ministry of Social Development, and the Far North with Ngāti Hine and in the Bay with Te Arawa, to encourage New Zealanders to work for us,” Seeka chief executive Michael Franks says.

"Putting induction programmes, 10-day training, people getting forklift driving certificates for horticulture industry not just for our company, so we're doing everything you'd expect us to get New Zealanders into work.”

The Government is also coughing up 41000 for Kiwis if they work for six weeks or more in the horticulture or wine growing sector.

The mayor of Hastings has added an invitation to that.   

“This is going to be a great place, come to Hawke’s Bay, we've got a beautiful climate, we've got wonderful things going on here, lots of events, come pick our fruit,” Sandra Hazelhurst said.

The workers announced today are guaranteed the living wage and at least 30 hours work a week, but First Union says Kiwis aren't afforded the same protections and that'll discourage some.

"It's about time to introduce a fair pay agreement in the industry, I think that's the only way we can fix the problem, and it can be applied to everyone in the industry,” Dennis Maga said.

The New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated say workers are mostly earning more than the living wage already.                  

"In terms of the orchard side of things, all of our workers are pretty much earning more than the living wage when it comes to harvest in the winter pruning anyway, they're paid on a piece rate which they like, because it means they can earn more the faster they work." chief executive Nikki Johnson says.