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Getting to the core of the problem

PHOTO/FILE

100 workers hand-picked for orchard

Reprieve for dire worker shortage

JR’s Orchards have accommodation onsite to host 40 new workers from outside the region. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

A Wairarapa orchard has received a boost of 100 new seasonal workers for the beginning of its harvest season through a Ministry of Social Development scheme.

One hundred people, formerly on jobseeker support, started working at JR’s Orchards on March 8.

They would continue to work at the orchards in Papawai – 5km southeast of Greytown – until May.

According to JR’s Orchards’ website, Royal Gala, and Sunglow Red apples, and Packhams, Beurre Bosc, and Taylors Gold pears, were normally ready for Harvest in March.

Other varieties would come into season throughout April and May.

News of the additional workers came as the fruit growing industry cried out for help.

On Monday, New Zealand Apples and Pears – JR’s Orchards’ industry body – issused a statement expressing concern about this year’s harvest.

“The whole industry from Gisborne to Central Otago is under huge pressure – growers and their teams are stressed and distressed,” it said.

“Blocks and varieties are being sacrificed; many orchardists are managing only one pick; pack houses are struggling to operate; the impact of the labour shortage is biting hard.”

JR’s Orchards operations director Jamiee Burns said it was her company’s policy not to comment to media.

NZ Apples and Pears chief executive Alan Pollard told the Times-Age that he had not heard of JR’s Orchards’ agreement with MSD but said that any additional workers would be helpful.

“The shortage is in the thousands, not in the hundreds,” Pollard said.

“If you extrapolate that right across horticulture, there is a significant shortage that we’re all facing.”

MSD regional commissioner for the central region Katie Brosnahan said that MSD had been running a range of initiatives around the country, including job expos that matched jobseekers with seasonal work opportunities.

“We’ve been delighted with the response,” she said.

In Wairarapa, these initiatives had resulted in the placement of 100 people into work at JR’s Orchards.

Of the 100 workers, 40 had relocated from Palmerston North, Horowhenua, and the Kapiti Coast to pick up work.

“This is testimony to their willingness to move to where the jobs are and to take a chance on something new,” Brosnahan said. “It also reflects collaboration of growers, MSD and the many other agencies working to bring in the crop and to provide jobs for those who need them.”

A bus had transported the workers from other regions to JR’s Orchards on March 7.

Those with their own vehicles were paid a travel allowance.

The remaining 60 workers were Wairarapa-based.

Transport would be provided from Masterton to Greytown for these people.

Brosnahan said that JR’s new workers would be supported under the New Zealand Seasonal Workers Scheme. Workers did not have to be on a benefit to qualify for the scheme, however all of JR’s new employees had been on jobseeker support.

In November 2020, Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni had announced additional financial support for unemployed New Zealanders to undertake seasonal work.

The new incentives included up to $200 a week for accommodation costs and increased wet weather payments when it was impossible to work.

In a response to a written question from David Seymour, Sepuloni said that MSD forecasted that the enhanced New Zealand Seasonal Work Scheme would support 500 to 700 people into seasonal work in the next year.

JR’s Orchards had its own accommodation village that could house 76 seasonal staff.

MSD payments would cover the cost of this accommodation for workers.

Brosnahan said that each worker would also have their ‘home’ based costs covered and would receive an incentive payment of up to $1000 if they completed 12 weeks of employment.

On the completion of the work at JR’s Orchards, MSD would refer the seasonal workers to jobs at Martinborough Vineyard to assist with their grape harvest for up to four weeks.

Brosnahan said that up to 80 beds were available in Martinborough and Featherston for these workers.

Brosnahan said that after the grape harvest, “MSD will continue to work with employers and job seekers to ensure they can move into other roles, or support them with benefits until further work is found”.

Pollard said that MSD had done a good job of incentivising people to move to growing regions but said that for most people – especially those with families – relocating for just a few weeks of work would be unfeasible.

“It was always going to be a challenge, but I certainly take my hat off to MSD for trying to come up with some really innovative ways of addressing the shortages.”

As Wairarapa’s only Recognised Seasonal Employer [RSE], JR’s Orchards had also hosted workers from the Solomon Islands every year since 2008.

Under its ECCO brand, JR’s Orchards had exported apples worldwide since 2012.

 

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