Water and workers – where’s the certainty?

24 Jul 2020 Water and workers – where’s the certainty? image

We are rapidly approaching spring and with spring comes harvest.  First strawberries and asparagus, then cherries.  At the same time, spring vegetable production steps up. 

All this production requires water, and all these harvests require labour.  Nearly all industry in New Zealand requires water and workers, be they rural or urban based businesses.  In particular, the export businesses that will unpin New Zealand’s post-Covid recovery need water and workers. 

Business confidence is dependent on a range of factors: the belief that a profit can be made; a market in which to sell the produce; and the ability to grow and harvest.  When it comes down to human survival, water, food and protection from the elements are required.  And for food production to continue, we need: labour, water and favourable growing conditions. 

In other words, the required ingredients for businesses, people and food to thrive are very similar and interdependent.

The one most important thing that the Government can do in the lead up to the election is ensure that as a country, we have water and fresh, healthy, locally grown food.  To ensure this, the Government needs to provide growers, farmers and the businesses of New Zealand with confidence to carry on planting and manufacturing, through the right policy settings.  This simply comes back to there being water and workers! 

Many of the industries that are continuing and surviving through Covid need seasonal workers.  Traditionally, these seasonal workers have been a mixture of people from other countries and New Zealand.  For horticulture, just under 50% of these workers are New Zealanders.  The remainder are workers from the Pacific and Asia (under the Recognised Seasonal Employer or RSE scheme) and backpackers to meet the peaks. 

Many of these visiting workers from other countries are stranded in New Zealand, and a growing number of New Zealanders are also looking for jobs.  The primary sector will have jobs for many of these people, if that’s where they want to work.  Horticulture is ready to take on these workers, particularly as we move into spring.

What we need the Government to do is change the immigration settings to enable stranded workers to legally work in New Zealand and supplement New Zealand workers.  We need these changes right now, effective until the end of 2021.  

We need a flexible and sensible approach as it is not the fault of the people from overseas that they cannot get home.  Enabling stranded workers to work does not have to be at the expense of New Zealanders because the normal flow of overseas workers into the country is no longer happening.

A sensible balance can be met through simple maths: required workforce = redeployed NZers + stranded visitors + NZers who normally work in that industry – the workers who cannot get into NZ. 

I am pleased to report that horticulture is working with the Government to achieve these changes. With these changes to immigration settings, we can continue to grow food to feed the country and the world and provide work for stranded visitors and all willing and able New Zealanders. 

To give certainty, timely decisions need to be made, and those decisions are needed before the election.  Our real concern is that there may not be enough people to do the work necessary to sustain horticulture’s growth and the New Zealand economy.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive