Fit for a Better World – workers for the future

10 Jul 2020 Fit for a Better World – workers for the future image

The Fit for a Better World primary sector action plan was released by the Government on 6 July.  It contains some seriously ambitious targets through three themes: 

  • Productivity: adding an additional $44 billion in export earnings over the next decade through a focus on creating value.
  • Inclusiveness: employing 10 per cent more New Zealanders from all walks of life in the food and fibre sector by 2030, and 10,000 more New Zealanders in the primary sector workforce over the next four years.
  • Sustainability: reducing our biogenic methane emissions to 24-47 per cent below 2017 levels by 2050; and 10 per cent below by 2030. Plus restoring New Zealand’s freshwater environments to a healthy state within a generation.

From horticulture’s perspective, we can contribute to these targets but for any chance of success, this has to be a whole of nation effort.  We need to have a completely different approach to pre-Covid days.  We also need to have very tight and co-ordinated government and industry partnerships, unlike any partnerships we have had before.  

The day after Fit for a Better World was released, the Minister of Immigration announced changes to the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) seasonal labour scheme.  Most important was the announcement that the scheme will continue with a cap of 14,400 workers entering and leaving New Zealand in anyone year. 

At present, our most urgent requirement is getting RSE workers home as many of them have finished last season’s contracts.  Covid has not made this an easy task.  But for those that remain in New Zealand, the Minister of Immigration has created some flexibility so that they can continue to work while they wait to go home.  Our industry has been asking for this flexibility for some months, but the key point now is that more decisions are needed from Immigration New Zealand to provide RSE workers with the ability to work as we come into the new season.  This is under active consideration by the Government.

RSE workers and employers have total uncertainty about what will happen next season.  Plans are being made and refined by the industry but certainty needs to come from the next series of Immigration New Zealand decisions. 

Decisions to date only give some certainty until 31 October 2020.  Certainty needs to be extended through until at least 31 October 2021.  This is because it is very likely that there will be a large number of RSE workers who will not get home by 31 October this year.  They need to know that they can still work in New Zealand and we need to be able to find them that work.  This is very urgent requirement and one the Minister of Immigration can address.

This does not mean that there will be no jobs for New Zealanders redeploying from other sectors such as tourism.  The RSE seasonal work force has enabled horticulture to grow and expand, and employ permanent New Zealanders.  During our last harvest, around 2,000 additional New Zealanders were employed and going forward, this trend will continue. 

It will be the combination of RSE workers and New Zealand workers that will allow horticulture to continue operating as it does today, and grow to help meet the Government’s targets of productivity and inclusiveness.  The first key point is both RSE workers and New Zealand workers are needed.

The second key point is that the targets in Fit for a Better World can only be met if government and our industry work together.  The pre-Covid process under which industry submitted its needs for continued growth to the Government and they then made independent decisions will not work in the future and will not be a model that will result in the Government’s targets of productivity and inclusiveness being achieved. 

What we now need is for Immigration New Zealand to design with industry how we are collectively going to give certainty not only to RSE workers, but to New Zealand workers and New Zealand employers for the coming season.  Collective decisions must be made for the whole of the next season that account for the variety of likely circumstances:

  • a Pacific Bubble allowing free movement of RSE workers, or
  • quarantine being provided by employers in their purpose-built accommodation facilities, or
  • a lockdown where some RSE workers remain in New Zealand with repatriation running as fast as the Governments of New Zealand and the Pacific Nations allow.

The final key point is that these decision and contingency plans need to be developed very soon to provide the certainty that everyone needs.  We do understand the issues that an election causes government decision making but that needs to be put aside as this is about the future of New Zealand, which transcends any election issues.

Now is very much the time for a new way of making decisions for the future of New Zealand, so we can have a chance to meet the Government’s primary sector targets.  This new decision-making process needs to start urgently with decisions about the RSE scheme, right through until the end of next season.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive