Housing and immigration - key issues for horticulture
The two dominant issues leading into the New Zealand general election in September are affordable housing and immigration. Both are important to horticulture. We want there to be enough workers to enable continued export growth, contributing to New Zealand’s financial well-being. What we are opposed to is houses taking away high quality land for growing fruit and vegetables, such as the vegetable gardens in the Pukekohe area.
The horticulture industry employs 60,000 people and they need affordable houses close to where they work. Most horticulture is located close to towns and cities, so a lot of these houses are in urban areas. Policies that support affordable houses are good for horticulture, as long as they do not take away high quality land that is being used to grow vegetables and fruit. Providing houses for workers, but taking away the gardens and orchards they work in to build houses, is self-defeating policy.
It is a similar situation with immigration. To continue horticulture growth, which is predominantly in exports, we need skilled workers. In regional New Zealand there are often not New Zealand workers with the required skills, or the aptitude to develop the required skills. Short of closing the business up, the only option is skilled migrants. As many of our horticultural business are located in the provincial areas, having a skill shortage policy focused on each region would be a great advantage. The Government however, has already tightened immigration conditions: restricting low-skilled workers to three-year visas, restricting skilled worker visas to those earning more than $49,000 a year, and increasing the points needed for skilled migrants to get residency. As the political parties develop their policies, care needs to be taken not to create an environment where it becomes much harder for businesses to fill jobs. This will inhibit economic growth.
Horticulture has concerns with the proposed tightening of the rules for international students. These students are an important part of the horticultural workforce and also, while under training, they add revenue to New Zealand. Balance is required, permitting and enabling continued growth of exports. For example, fresh fruit exports in 2016 increased by an impressive 35% over 2015, with outstanding performers being kiwifruit, apples, blueberries and cherries. Onions dominated the fresh export vegetable sector with a sizable increase of 38% from $81 million to $112 million. Overall the vegetable export sector rose 4%.
Horticulture has a strong focus on employing Kiwis and on programmes getting Kiwis into work. Immigration balances the workforce requirements. Our plea is to get that balance right between placement of affordable houses, away from high quality growing land, and sensible immigration to support New Zealand’s continued economic growth through exports.
Foot note: the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme that provides for workers mainly from the Pacific Islands to come to New Zealand for seasonal work for about six months each year is not migration. All these workers return home to the Pacific Islands, but enable the continued growth of horticulture and contribute to New Zealand’s economic success.
- Mike Chapman, CEO