Alan Pollard, Chief Executive, New Zealand Apples & Pears
The NZAPI team is very busy across all of their respective areas of responsibility.
The most topical and urgent work, unsurprisingly, is around seasonal labour. Five members of the NZAPI team are engaged on this one issue. This year’s apple crop is setting up to be the largest we have seen, a situation also evident with the kiwifruit and stone fruit crops. This is all developing at a time when our primary sources of labour have been severely disrupted by COVID-19.
We would normally expect about 11,000 RSE workers to be available at crucial times in the season – at the moment there are about 6,000 with around 1,000 expected to return home prior to Christmas. We normally expect upwards of 50,000 working holiday visa holders to be in NZ – there are around 13,000 with a proportion of those available to us. And finally, New Zealand’s unemployment rate has not hit the heights projected, and is likely to peak at 7.7% in the second quarter of 2021.
Changes offering flexibility for RSE and WHV holders were welcome, but do not solve the labour problem.
We know without any doubt that if we take labour demand, and subtract from that the available labour supply from New Zealanders, and RSE’s and WHV’s/SSE’s still in NZ, there will be a large labour deficit at our peak times.
Myself and the CEO’s of NZ Kiwifruit Growers, Summerfruit NZ and Horticulture NZ have co-authored a submission to Ministers O’Connor (Agriculture), Faafoi (Immigration) and Sepuloni (Social Development) outlining the case for bridging the labour deficit by bringing RSE workers back into NZ. We met with those Ministers in Wellington on 11 November, and had a positive full and frank discussion about the situation as it currently stands. We expect to receive feedback from those Ministers in the next few days. I will continue to liaise with the HBFA executive as matters progress.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her Cabinet appointments last week, with Ministers sworn in last Friday. Those appointments most impacting our industry include: Hon Damien O’Connor retains Agriculture and picks up Trade and Export Growth; Hon Carmel Sepuloni retains Social Development and picks up Employment; Hon Kris Faafoi retains Immigration; Hon Stuart Nash picks up Economic and Regional Development; Ayesha Verrall picks up Food Safety; Hon David Parker retains Environment; and Hon Nanaia Mahuta picks up Foreign Affairs. As most of the key portfolios have been retained by Ministers, this is an advantage as we seek to build on the relationships that we have formed in the previous government.