Covid-19: Local residents who are keen on picking fruit have been ignored or rejected, and foreign workers are allowed into New Zealand


Horticulturists welcome the admission of 2,000 collectors from the Pacific, but say this is still not enough. Video / Hawkes Bay today

Locals say they are receiving applications for fruit-picking jobs that have been ignored or rejected, despite moves to allow more migrant workers to enter the country.

It comes on the back of complaints from the industry that there are not enough pickers.

Horticulturists and recruiters say the reason for unresponsive or failed requests may be a matter of timing, as summer harvesting has only begun now.

The government will allow up to 2,000 seasonal workers to come to New Zealand from Pacific island countries from January.

They will have to spend two weeks in managed isolation – paid by employers at a cost of $ 4,722 per person – and will have to pay a living wage of $ 22.10 an hour.

Gardeners who supply summer fruits say the influx of foreign workers is so little, too late, that some have already started picking cherries.

They expect this season to be the largest cherry harvest yet, but there will be a drastically reduced labor pool due to the shortage of RSE (recognized seasonal employer) workers and nomads.

Locals keen to pick fruit say they tried and failed.

Local workers say they are banned from fruit-picking jobs.  Photo / Warren Buckland
Local workers say they are banned from fruit-picking jobs. Photo / Warren Buckland

Justin, a Dunedin woman who was laid off earlier in the year and wanted a job in cherry picking, said she applied in three orchards and it was rejected or ignored.

“I feel so frustrated as I keep hearing these stories of how desperate they are [for workers] I think it b ….

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“I just feel they have this preconceived notion of Kiwis and their work ethic and I think … they’re saying they’re desperate, not hiring kiwis and then trying to attract people who want to pay less.”

Justin said she has given up looking for cherry-picking jobs and is looking at other sectors now.

Several others contacted the Otago Daily Times with similar complaints about their attempts to get a fruit picking job around Central Otago, although some reported that they got fruit picking jobs and “totally enjoyed” the experience.

Nigel Hinton, the owner of Hintons Orchard, said his organization typically has around 90 RSE workers.

They were filling the void with high school and college students, and I was surprised to hear some people have difficulty finding jobs.

“Cherries aren’t ready yet and … to be fair, maybe not much is happening at the moment.

“But within a week or 10 days I thought farmers would have to provoke people, even if they had to wait a week to start.”

Many farmers said that a work ethic is lacking in local fruit pickers.  Photo / Warren Buckland
Many farmers said that a work ethic is lacking in local fruit pickers. Photo / Warren Buckland

Hinton said there is a distinct gap between the work ethic of unemployed New Zealanders and RSE workers.

“RSE workers come here because they want to work, need a job and use the money they make for their families in their villages back home… It’s a completely different beast.

“dare [I] Say it … a lot of kiwis have no work ethic at all and don’t want to work. “

In Cromwell, CEO of 45 South, Tim Jones, said he was concerned that there were not enough workers for the cherry harvest.

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“We got a really good inquiry from a mixture of Kiwi and a few backpackers who are still in New Zealand.

“Nobody is quite sure if the people who applied to us also applied for 10 or 15 more orchards in central Otago. It won’t until day one until you really know that.”

He said that 45 Southerners usually had around 150 RS workers from Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Samoa.

They’ll be lucky this year if they get 30 men who are now loosening apple trees in Hawke Bay and may look forward to coming to Central Otago for their cherries harvest.

Jones said the New Zealanders who applied and lost may have gone early.

“The work does not start until the fruit is ready to be picked and it does not seem likely until early to mid-December, and I am quite sure since then that there will be many jobs available in the area.”

He said that every person who applied for a job in his organization received a response.

Kohn Van Der Forte, Etrik’s packaging store owner, said the majority of apple and pickle diluents were from Vanuatu and “with a stroke of the pen” are no longer available due to Covid-19 restrictions.

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“We are in a dangerous situation … unless we have many people we will not be able to harvest our crops.”

The Ministry of Social Development said it saw 1,055 job applications pass through the Work The Seasons website for the southern region.

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