Central Otago builders in high demand

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New accommodation rules for on-site seasonal workers have triggered a burst of activity for already busy Central Otago builders.

One Cromwell builder is receiving on average three inquiries a day from orchard growers.

Another Cromwell builder has designed purpose-built accommodation for three growers in the past few weeks and receives a growing number of inquiries a week.

The increase follows new rules for Central Otago orchard and viticultural growers who employ workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employers (RSE) scheme.

The rules, introduced in September, included the expectation to provide purpose-built accommodation even if the grower had already bought existing housing in towns.

New restrictions also limit growers renting housing in towns that had not previously been used for RSE accommodation.

Ettrick orchardist Stephen Darling said the Government had introduced the new regulations for RSE worker accommodation following an increase in the cap of workers coming to New Zealand under the scheme this season.

The Government wanted to ensure the increased demand for accommodation for RSE workers did not compete in the rental market with the needs for housing by New Zealand residents, he said.

Growers were expected to provide purpose-built on-site accommodation for seasonal workers rather than buying or renting housing.

“That makes sense,” he said.

“You have got to house people and it has got to be reasonable.”

The accommodation shortage was not as bad in the Teviot Valley as it was in the larger urban areas, he said.

Demands for worker accommodation in Earnscleugh and Cromwell increased because of the number of cherry plantings and other orchards being developed.

BigSky Construction has experienced an increase in queries from growers interested in building accommodation on their properties.

Co-owner Justin Marshall, of Lowburn, said he had designed accommodation for three growers in response to the new regulations, for up to 20 people per build.

He was getting more queries weekly.

Cromwell was desperately short of accommodation, especially for families who wanted to move from Wanaka and Queenstown, he said.

“We can see that there will be real issues with accommodation in the next few years, even [for workers] in the service and hospitality industry in Cromwell,” Mr Marshall said.

Seasonal Solutions Co-operative chief executive Helen Axby said the new regulations applied from the 2019-20 season, in seven regions, including Otago.

Accommodation availability would determine the number of RSE workers allocated to Central Otago and there was already a shortage.

Almost 900 RSE workers were employed in Otago for the 2018-2019 season.

Some growers rented houses in Alexandra and Cromwell for RSE workers but were no longer allowed to do so unless the house had been included in an agreement to recruit, which had been approved before September 26.

The co-operative was working with growers to look at ways of providing more accommodation for a growing workforce.

Taylor Made Container Homes Ltd builds self-contained, fully compliant accommodation and ablution blocks for orchards, vineyards, homestays and sleep-outs from shipping containers.

Owner Darryl Taylor, of Cromwell, said he had considerable interest from growers, which he thought was because of the new regulations.

“I probably get three inquiries a day, with some from orchardists and viticulturalists,” Mr Taylor said.

Orchardist Trudi Webb, of Webb’s Fruit, Cromwell, said they had spent the past three winters building new, upgrading or extending seasonal worker accommodation and now had room for 34 people during peak season.

“We had accommodation as a priority, to get that sorted for RSE and backpackers,” she said.

“It’s in everybody’s mind that they need to start building accommodation.

“If you don’t have the staff, you don’t get the crop off.

“Everyone knows it is part of having an orchard, being able to accommodate people.”

YVONNE O’HARA

@alliedpress.co.nz