Border exceptions for seasonal workers are coming, but are likely to be too late for the Central Otago cherry harvest.
The Government announced on Friday up to 2000 Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme workers will be able to enter New Zealand from some Pacific Island countries.
Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor said because of limited capacity in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, worker entry would be staggered, starting in January, to avoid peak holiday demand from New Zealanders returning for Christmas.
Employers would need to cover costs of managed isolation as well as agree to minimum hourly rates.
“This is the single largest economic-based class border exception to date,” he said.
Central Otago Fruitgrowers Association chairwoman Trudi Webb said plans for seasonal workers to come in January would be too late for the cherry harvest.
‘‘By the time they come in most of the cherry harvest will be done.’’
The peak of the cherry harvest was early to mid January, she said.
Promotions targeting New Zealanders, including students, to do seasonal work in Central Otago was hard to quantify but she believed it had been beneficial.
‘‘I think we’ve had a lot more students looking for work.’’
The shortfall of workers would become more apparent in a couple of weeks, when the cherry harvest increased and it became clear how many people who indicated they were interested would turn up for work, she said.
‘‘Until they turn up on the day and say they are going to start, then we will have a good indication of where we are at.’’
Seasonal Solutions chief executive Helen Axby said 2000 RSE scheme workers was ‘‘a bit of a start’’.
She did not know how those additional workers would be allocated but the grower-owned co-operative would be making a case for workers not only for Otago but also for Canterbury and Marlborough.
‘‘We have some real opportunities to share workers between regions.’’
For example, the peak need for Central Otago was in April, when apples and grapes were harvested at the same time.
‘‘But once those harvests are coming to an end, then our staff can move to another region.’’
That could included vegetable harvests in Canterbury and grape pruning in Marlborough.
‘‘So we are in a fairly unique position to maximise both the earning capacity of our staff [and] also their impact on seasonal labour shortages in different regions.’’
The grower-owned cooperative was waiting to get more details to understand which countries would be part of the scheme as well as the practicalities and logistics.
‘‘As always the devil is in the detail.’’
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said changes had allowed about 6000 RSE workers and up to 13,300 working holiday scheme visa holders to remain in New Zealand.
They had also made changes to allow visitor, student and work visa holders currently in New Zealand to apply for supplementary seasonal employment visas and had streamlined some application processes.
The Government was also increasing support for New Zealanders to work in seasonal jobs with up to $200 per week for accommodation costs and a $1000 incentive payment for workers who complete jobs of six weeks or longer.