The New Zealand kiwifruit growers’ association says it has gained support from the government’s Provincial Growth Fund and the Ministry of Social Development to employ a labour coordinator to try to alleviate an expected staff shortage in 2019.

The association said the Bay of Plenty kiwifruit industry, which accounts for more than 80 percent of kiwifruit grown, experienced a severe labour shortage this year with 1,200 vacancies at harvest unable to be filled.

“The aim of the labour coordinator role is to attract additional workers and increase the coordination of available labour sources to support the growth of the industry in the Bay of Plenty,” New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers said in a statement.

New Zealanders will be given priority for the work, particularly those from Work and Income.

“Ensuring a sustainable supply of labour is the kiwifruit industry’s top priority,” association chief executive Nikki Johnson said.

“The growing appetite for our high quality, great tasting fruit, means we need more people to pick, pack and prune. Luckily, the Bay of Plenty has some of the most beautiful beaches and is a very attractive area to come to work,” Johnson said.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones today announced funding of almost $100,000 for the coordinator role from the Provincial Growth Fund. The position, to be co-funded by growers and the Ministry of Social Development, is expected to be in place until the end of 2020, Johnson said.  

The industry has also launched a campaign to attract more pickers and packers which focuses on backpackers, retirees, students and the unemployed and has already started with articles aimed at backpackers in the European media.

“New Zealand kiwifruit production will increase from 123 million trays in 2017 to 190 million trays by 2027,” Johnson said. “To meet this demand, the industry will need more than 7,000 additional seasonal workers over the next 10 years.”

The association is also working on accommodation, welfare, transport, perception of pay rates and to ensure consistency of work to try to improve the labour situation, she said.

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