The contribution of recognised seasonal employment (RSE) scheme workers in Central Otago continues to rise, Seasonal Solutions chief executive Helen Axby says.
RSE worker numbers would rise again this year, providing more benefits for the region, she said.
Central Otago will have about 650 RSE workers this season, the first having arrived in August and the last due to arrive in January.
The scheme allows growers to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work when there are not enough New Zealand workers.
RSE numbers had been rising steadily since the scheme was introduced in Central Otago 12 years ago. Thirty Central Otago orchards and vineyards now hire RSE staff.
The peak for RSE workers was March-April, when apples and grapes were being harvested and many backpackers had left the region and students had returned to studies, Ms Axby said.
This year’s RSE workers include 26 from Fiji, the first time the Seasonal Solutions co-operative has brought in Fijian staff. Central Otago company Hinton Estate Vineyard Fruit Orchards has employed Fijian workers before.
The other RSE workers come from Vanuatu.
Ms Axby said the RSE workers made a vital contribution to orchards and vineyards with their labour and skills, but also more broadly to the Central Otago economy through goods and services bought here.
They made an important cultural contribution too, bringing diversity and becoming part of various sectors, such as church communities. They were well known in the district for their music.
The Alexandra Fijian RSE workers have just completed the Vakameasina training programme, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, offered to RSE workers in Central Otago for more than 10 years.
Central Otago Vakameasina training regional co-ordinator Juliet Pye said the free course covered modules on food choice, budgeting, sexual health/rights and responsibilities, computers, chainsaws, building and music.
Ms Axby said it was not known how many extra RSE workers would be allocated to Central Otago following the Government’s recent announcement it was raising RSE numbers nationally by 1600.
But any increase was welcomed.
‘‘They [more RSE workers] are very much needed, especially with all the new orchard plantings coming in. The demand [for staff] is only going to grow.’’