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The phased reopening of New Zealand’s borders is being welcomed by growers and contractors, but they question how soon the changes can alleviate labour shortages.

Phase Two, in effect from March 13, allows eligible travellers from anywhere in the world into the country with a requirement to self-isolate, and borders will also reopen to those on Working Holiday Schemes and critical workers who earn 1.5 times the median wage ($40.50 an hour) for roles longer than six months.

Chris Hull, operations manager for pipfruit business CAJ van der Voort, said opening the borders to working holiday visa holders from March might not see many takers, as those who travelled to New Zealand would need to self-isolate on arrival.

“It’s going to be too late for the apple harvest which starts in late February and will complete in late April, early May,” he said.

He welcomed any opening up to potential workers.

“Any loosening of border control and freedom of movement is going to be beneficial for the industry.”

Clyde Orchards co-owner Kevin Paulin also said the changes come too late to have any effect this season.

“We’re just at the end of our season so it’s not really going to help us short- to medium- term.”

Kerri McCarthy, Cromwell branch manager for NZ Recruit, deals with many contractors and said it was currently a candidate’s market, with job seekers having several offers to choose between.

It would be hard to fill most positions with workers from overseas, as the requirement for critical workers to be paid 1.5 times the median wage was “very, very high”.

Truck drivers could earn $26-$30 an hour and digger operators $30-$35, she said, but she rarely saw jobs that paid $40 an hour or more.

“Not even a supervisor or a foreman on a site makes that much.”

Rural Contractors New Zealand chief executive Andrew Olsen said authority was given in December to bring in 200 contractors, but subsequent border entry changes precluded enough arriving in time to be useful.

“We really needed them in January to be effective,” he said.

The organisation was now looking at what relief the Working Holiday Scheme might provide to contractors into next season.