Fruit picking a lifeline for people needing mahi

updated By Jessica Tyson

The horticulture sector is proving to be a lifeline for employees as more New Zealanders are taking up the chance to work in roles, such as picking apples and kiwifruit, during the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says overseas workers traditionally fill roles in horticulture but because of COVID-19 precautions many jobs are not available to them so New Zealanders are filling those roles.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc. reports some businesses now have a workforce of over 90 percent New Zealanders, compared to around 50 percent last season.

“It is great to see Kiwis taking up the opportunity to be part of this essential industry. Now is a peak time for picking apples and kiwifruit.  Workers are in high demand and around 20,000 are needed at the peak of harvest,” says O’Connor.

Last week alone, more than 100 staff were placed into roles in the Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Nelson. The pipfruit industry has seen around 200 workers from other industries placed into jobs across the country.

“There are jobs going all over the country in our key growing areas and the Government is working alongside the primary sector to help ensure workers get to the places they are needed.”

O’Connor says the primary sector is very conscious of the fact that they are in the privileged position of being deemed an essential service.

“They are very aware that other sectors are doing it tough and they want to do what they can to help. They know, just as the Government does, that the best thing to do right now is keep people connected to jobs, he says.

“The Government is doing that through the wage subsidy that has paid out about $6 billion to date, the primary sector wants to give those who have lost jobs opportunities in its sector.”

O’Connor says New Zealand’s horticulture sector has long been one of New Zealand’s export star performers, contributing around $6 billion a year to our economy.

“There is no shortage of demand for our produce. The world needs a continuous supply of fresh fruit and vegetables and our country is in the position to help do that, he says.

“Our primary sector is part of the solution to global food security concerns in the short-term and will play a critical role in New Zealand’s economic recovery after Covid-19, which is why we have ensured that our food supply chain (farmers, processing, distribution, supermarkets) can continue to operate during the lockdown to keep our exports flowing.

O’Connor thanks farmers, growers, meat workers, fruit pickers and others who are helping the primary sector keep operating as an essential service during the Covid-19 global pandemic.