RSE announcement too little and too late

27 September 2023

Horticulture has nothing to celebrate in the announcement by Minister Little to increase the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) cap by a mere 500 people to 19,500. This decision does not recognise the important part horticulture plays in strengthening New Zealand’s economy.

This decision does not give growers confidence to continue to invest as they go into the next harvest season. Horticulture has plenty of work available for kiwis and our Pacific partners. This work creates jobs for New Zealanders and boosts the economy.

Other parties have recognised the importance of our sector and committed to much larger increases in RSE access. Our growers need a government that understands our requirements, will help us grow sustainably and meet the needs of our domestic and export markets.

We are watching policy commitments closely and will work with any government that is committed to helping our growers and the wider sector. Like many others, our growers have had a challenging time recently dealing with severe weather events, rising costs of production and closed borders affecting the workforce.

Earlier this year when we worked with Government to set the Aotearoa Horticulture Action Plan, the sector set a challenge for Government. We set an aspirational direction for the horticulture sector and the goal of a long-term policy to assist existing horticulture businesses and new entrants to have the confidence to invest in and grow the sector, in doing so contributing significantly to the growth of the New Zealand economy. The cap increase announcement fails that challenge. Industry requested the cap be increased by 1,600 to accommodate employers' requests for the coming season.

It is equally disappointing that the RSE policy review has not progressed – instead its stalled within the bureaucracy of Wellington. Industry has been working closely with our Pacific partners and Government for years to progress the policy review to enable certainty. We, like the Government are focused on prioritising workers’ wellbeing and the long-term sustainability of the scheme. This further lack of progress is creating more uncertainty for growers.

The horticulture industry is eager to work with Government on the implementation of the policy to make swift and practical progress in improving the RSE scheme, starting with the most pressing issues that will have the most benefit to our growers as well as Pacific countries that are part of the RSE scheme.

The horticulture sector has always been a willing partner to ensure the scheme is fit for purpose and delivers for the Pacific and New Zealand. This is a balancing act. Throughout this review, we have gathered feedback from growers that employ RSE workers and made it clear to MBIE and the immigration minister what needs to occur for the scheme to be viable into the future.

We look forward to the Government concluding the policy review and getting stuck into the implementation phase to ensure positive outcomes for the horticulture sector as well as our Pacific workers.