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Pacific seasonal workers could be a lifeline for New Zealand horticulture

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WELLINGTON (Pacific Cooperation Foundation/Pacnews) — Chairman of the Pacific Cooperation Foundation John Fiso, believes New Zealand can achieve a win-win by providing financial support for Pacific people from neighboring island nations to head to New Zealand and help our horticultural sector in the upcoming fruit picking season.

“Our brothers and sisters in the Pacific islands are struggling for income due to the collapse of tourism in the region, this is a way to help them — and help our growers who are extremely concerned about labor shortages,” says Fiso.

New Zealand is heading into a busy summer fruit season with a shortage of 60,000 workers. The impact of this on the economy could be $9.5 billion or U.S. $6.3 billion according to New Zealand Apples and Pears.

“Bringing seasonal workers in from the Pacific could be a win-win for the severely short staffed orchardists and fruit growers of New Zealand, and the people struggling in the Pacific,” says Fiso. “The reality is, bringing in the Pacific workers would be hugely beneficial for humanitarian reasons in the Pacific and at the same time prevents millions of dollars of produce in New Zealand going to waste.”

The New Zealand horticultural industry heavily relies on seasonal workers from overseas, and with the cherry season set to start in six weeks, growers say they will not even be able to get the fruit off the trees if they don’t find the workers.

As of 2019 there were 14,400 workers from Pacific nations including Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu employed under the Recognized Seasonal Employers or RSE scheme. This number does not take into account working holiday visas.

PCF helped initiate the original RSE scheme in collaboration with others in 2007, as it recognized that labor mobility was vital for the Pacific region. PCF believes where Pacific countries are unable to bring the jobs to the people, the alternative is to bring the people to the jobs.

“There is no reason we couldn’t bring workers from the Pacific Islands and also employ New Zealanders who have lost their job,” says John Fiso. “There are enough roles available for both.”

Data gathered during the NZKGI Recognized Seasonal Employers survey in March 2020 recognized that RSE employees make up 33% of seasonal staff for the horticulture industry in New Zealand. The survey also confirmed the significance of the RSE scheme to sustain and contribute to the expansion of horticulture in New Zealand. For example, New Zealand’s apple and pear industry employs about half of the RSE workers, and has the world’s highest productivity at 48% higher than its closest competitor, and 161% higher than the world average for apples and pears.

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