Some kiwifruit-growing businesses have reported workforces made up of more than 90 per cent New Zealanders - up from 50 per cent last season - as more Kiwis take up horticulture work to stay afloat during the Covid-19 nationwide lockdown.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the horticulture sector "has long been one of New Zealand's export star performers" after contributing around $6 billion to the economy.
“Now they’re also becoming a lifeline for a number of redeployed workers from industries such as tourism, forestry and hospitality,” Mr O’Connor said in a press release.
While the horticulture roles are typically filled by overseas, many foreign workers are now unavailable due to precautions around the Covid-19 pandemic.
The New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc. reported some businesses now have a workforce of over 90 per cent New Zealanders, compared to around 50 per cent last season. Last week, more than 100 staff were placed into roles in the Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Nelson.
Meanwhile, the pipfruit industry has seen around 200 workers from other industries placed into jobs across the country.
“It is great to see Kiwis taking up the opportunity to be part of this essential industry. Now is a peak time for picking apples and kiwifruit.
Workers are in high demand and over 20,000 are needed at the peak of harvest," Mr O'Connor said.
The minister said there are “jobs going all over the country” in key areas of the horticulture industry, and the Government is currently working alongside the primary sector to ensure workers “get to the places they are needed.”
The Government is now investigating further ways to boost the primary sector’s essential workforce with the Government’s $100 million redeployment scheme.
“There is no shortage of demand for our produce. The world needs a continuous supply of fresh fruit and vegetables and our country is in the position to help do that," he said.
“Our primary sector is part of the solution to global food security concerns in the short-term and will play a critical role in New Zealand’s economic recovery after Covid-19, which is why we have ensured that our food supply chain (farmers, processing, distribution, supermarkets) can continue to operate during the lockdown to keep our exports flowing."
He said while the primary sector is "very conscious" that they are in the "privileged position of being deemed an essential service, other sectors are doing it tough and they want to do what they can to help."
"They know, just as the Government does, that the best thing to do right now is keep people connected to jobs," Mr O'Connor said.
"The Government is doing that through the wage subsidy that has paid out about $6 billion to date, the primary sector wants to give those who have lost jobs opportunities in its sector."
“I thank our farmers, growers, meat workers, fruit pickers and all the others who are helping our primary sector to keep operating as an essential service during the Covid-19 global pandemic”.