Picking of New Zealand’s kiwifruit crop is underway and harvest organisers are pulling out all the stops to find the workers they’ll need for the season – with a particular focus on attracting kiwis into the sector.
The industry is extending a message out to those in the hospitality, tourism and forestry industries, or anyone who may not have sufficient work due to COVID-19, that there are plenty of jobs available in kiwifruit orchards and packhouses over the coming months.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) Chief Executive Officer Nikki Johnson said the sector is expecting a harvest of around 155 million trays of kiwifruit this year and expects to need more than 20,000 workers across the harvest and post-harvest period.
Johnson said significant volumes of kiwifruit are expected to be harvested next week and remain high well into April. Final picking takes place in June. “The gold kiwifruit are ready first and it’s a very short turnaround to get that fruit off the vines and into the packhouses. Then the green variety will be ready and it’s full on till early winter.”
The industry’s biggest challenge is to find the seasonal labour required – and avoid a labour shortage. After encountering a shortage of 1,200 workers at the start of the 2018 harvest, NZKGI developed and implemented a labour attraction strategy for the 2019 harvest which was largely successful.
“The thrust of the strategy last year was to get the best information out to potential workers that we could, correcting any false perceptions about the work and pay, and use every channel available, particularly through social media, to tell people about the work available.”
As a result, a possible labour shortage of 3,500 workers was avoided in 2019, though the industry and Government did take the precaution of opening up kiwifruit work to visitors to New Zealand who didn’t have a work visa, which enabled the industry to recruit an additional 477 workers.
A key focus of the 2020 strategy is on attracting kiwis into seasonal roles. “While working holiday visa (WHV) holders – backpackers – coming to New Zealand provide a lot of the seasonal labour for our sector and others, we’re keen to ensure that, as a first priority, we make these roles available to kiwis looking for work.
“We would love to see more kiwis coming into the industry, particularly if they’re located close to the orchards and packhouses, not just for seasonal roles but also long-term employment in the sector or permanent roles, as well as retirees and students seeking work in the orchards and packhouses. Kiwifruit work is almost year-round, once you factor in all the orchard maintenance work that’s required during the off-season.”
The labour strategy seeks to get full information about the types of roles, pay rates, working conditions and employee rights within the industry to those seeking work. “We also make a point of stressing the tourist attractions of the kiwifruit-growing regions for backpackers since that’s mostly why they are here.”
NZKGI is also working hard to try to lessen some of the barriers to working in the industry, such as pressure on accommodation and transport challenges. “We’re also keen to ensure that seasonal employees are treated properly and recommend potential workers choose their employer carefully from our list of approved contractors.”
Promotional tools to get the word around again this year include the NZKGI’s popular Little Green and Gold Book, a comprehensive 14-page guide to jobs in the industry, introduced in 2019. An updated version available in both print and electronic form was released earlier this month.
The organisation’s Facebook page, Kiwifruit Jobs NZ, also introduced for the 2019 season, was another highly popular point of contact for potential workers, reaching more than 250,000 people in 2019. A video featuring backpackers working in a Te Puke orchard, which was released in both English and German versions, also gained wide exposure, receiving 54,000 views.
The 2020 campaign will again emphasise the social media channels, while a video highlighting Kiwis working in the sector has also been released. NZKGI is reaching out to retiree and sports groups as well as tertiary institutes to encourage people to explore the work available, says Johnson. “We welcome anyone into the sector – there’s plenty of good work available at good rates of pay, and it’s a great industry to work in.”