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Worker shortage sees fruit bowl of NZ facing the prospect of rotting away

The fruit bowl of New Zealand is facing the prospect of rotting away.

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With borders closed, regions that rely on foreign labour like Hawke’s Bay could be thousands of workers short. Source: 1 NEWS

With borders still closed and the busy harvest season on the horizon, regions that rely on foreign labour like Hawke's Bay are staring at the prospect of being thousands of workers short.

Paul Paynter from Yummy Fruit Co told 1 NEWS it’s a scary time.

“This is life or death for a lot of growers.”

Hawke's Bay is facing a deficit of 10,000 workers for this year’s harvest due to the closed borders.

“Two-thirds of our work force is made up of working holiday visas or RSE's (Recognised Seasonal Employee’s) so to be down two thirds by the time we get to March it’s going to be hard to replace them,” Paynter said.

March is when apples are ready to pick and the real economic crunch could be felt.

Apples and pears alone are worth over $700 million to the region's GDP and 8000 full time jobs.

Gary Jones from Apples and Pears NZ says time is running out.

“We need some clarity now so we can have confidence we can harvest and then we can invest and from that investment then the security of those jobs in our community flows on.”

The industry says already built accommodation could be used as quarantine for workers from Covid-19-free Pacific countries, 350 pickers could be housed in set ups like Thornhill Contracting’s converted hotel.

“We did it during level four having 25 bubbles within that complex. We can’t see any reason why we can’t bring them from the islands Covid free and bring them into our complex for 14 days quarantine and then take them out into the Hawke’s Bay area and do it again,” Managing Director Richard Bibby told 1 NEWS.

Freshly unemployed New Zealanders turned up for kiwifruit picking jobs during level four lockdown.

Labour's Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson told a meeting of industry leaders this week he’s hoping that'll happen again.

“We have to make sure that the New Zealanders who are here and are available for work get the opportunity to come here.”

But National’s Judith Collins says people underestimate how skilled the work is.

“People who say oh just get unemployed people to do it, don’t understand that it’s really tough work and the people who do it are highly skilled and they’re often very capable of doing it because they’ve been doing it, coming in seasonally and everything else for years.”

But with fruit fast approaching any help will do.