Alan Pollard, Chief Executive, New Zealand Apples & Pears
The government’s confirmation that quarantine free flights from Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga will commence from October was welcome news. This confirmed a previous announcement by the Prime Minister some weeks earlier.
To enable the arrangement to be agreed, the governments had to reach an agreement on those countries allowing their workers to return at the end of their tenure in New Zealand, and what quarantine arrangements may be required on their return home.
A large amount of work is being done between industry and government agencies to agree the requirements for quarantine free travel to commence. That includes pre-departure processes, the status of the flights to be used (charter, cargo, commercial), arrival processes, vaccination, testing, isolation, etc. Concurrently, a team is working on the basis of allocation of workers amongst employers. This is a complex task that needs to recognise approved employer and regional ATR allocations, workers remaining in New Zealand and planning to stay here, and workers who will be repatriated over the next few months. We appreciate that employers need to know where they stand re RSE numbers as soon as possible, and the team is working as fast as they can to be in a position to advise employers. However, we are condensing a process that would normally take months into a few weeks.
The first flights under the quarantine free travel arrangements will most likely be the three flights (previously via MIQ) which were deferred from September.
If we have a full crop this year (i.e. no major weather events) we could have an additional 100,000 to 115,000 tonnes of fruit to harvest requiring an additional 2,500 workers. So the RSE decision is not the panacea to industry labour challenges. There are only about 5,000 working holiday visa holders in the country (down from a usual 50,000 or so), with little prospect of any easing of border restrictions to allow more to come in.
I understand that there are a bit over 100,000 job seekers in New Zealand at a time when all sectors are crying out for labour – the industry has to position itself as a more attractive option than other industries. We are already gearing up for a programme of campaigns to attract people to and retain people in the industry.
So quarantine free travel offers some relief but labour challenges will remain. The NZAPI team continues to work with government to ensure that our industry can access our fair share (or more) of available labour.