The Ministry of Social Development has declared a seasonal labour shortage across the Bay of Plenty.
An additional 1200 people are needed in the region to pick and pack an extra 20 million trays of kiwifruit this season.
The declaration will be in place from May 7 until June 8 and follows discussions with sector leaders, industry experts and other government agencies.
Regional Commissioner Mike Bryant says there have been a number of factors that led to the shortage being called, including a strong kiwifruit season, a decrease in the number of international students in the region, a bounce back from the PSA virus impacting crop volumes and varieties, and a relatively low unemployment rate in the region.
"The industry's growing after the downturn that followed the PSA outbreak, and forecasts show it will continue to grow. To date around a third of this year's crop has been picked and packed, however the industry's entering the main packing period and more people are needed to help with work," he says.
The forecasted volume for this year's kiwifruit harvest is about 142 million trays, which is a 19 per cent increase from last season's crop of 120 million trays. The SunGold variety of kiwifruit, which accounts for 44 per cent of total crops, also requires picking in a shorter timeframe and means more reliance on fruit pickers during this period.
"The industry is extremely important to our local economy – 85 per cent of New Zealand's kiwifruit is grown in the Bay of Plenty, it contributes $867 million to the region's GDP and the kiwifruit industry provided jobs for nearly 10,800 FTE positions in 2015/16," says Mike.
"It's an industry we're extremely proud of and want to support, especially when there's a need to find more workers. We want to, and can, help."
Between January and April this year, the Ministry of Social Development placed more than 1000 people into job vacancies in the kiwifruit industry through providing work brokerage support, training, up skilling opportunities, financial and case management support.
"We're working hard alongside the sector to connect New Zealanders to seasonal work opportunities through Work and Income and to help them overcome any obstacles they're facing.”
The ‘Work the Seasons' employment portal has been launched, seasonal employment opportunities are given profile in the region's Work and Income's local service centres, and in the weekend the Ministry supported a kiwifruit industry employment expo in Tauranga.
"We're having on-going discussions with leaders in the sector on how to make the industry more attractive to workers by improving employment practices. This is alongside ensuring the industry is forecasting for future labour demands, anticipating growth in the kiwifruit sector and building a sustainable seasonal labour workforce to match," says Mike.
"We estimate between 80 to 100 additional people from our Western Bay of Plenty Work and Income sites suitable for seasonal employment that could be used to meet the labour shortage. However more workers are still needed, because our clients alone won't fill the estimated 1200 job vacancies in the industry.
"There's a high demand for fruit pickers and people to help post-harvest and by declaring a labour shortage, people from overseas with visitor visas can apply for a Variation of Conditions allows them to work through the declaration period."
The Bay of Plenty has a relatively low unemployment rate of 5.1 per cent and also strong presence of about 2000 Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers in the region.
The declaration will be closely monitored and amended if conditions change.