Changes to seasonal work visas have given Kiwi growers a lifeline for dealing with labour shortages, but wineries may still miss out.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced on Tuesday a Supplementary Seasonal Employment visa will be automatically given to about 11,000 working holiday visa holders in New Zealand to help fill labour shortages in the horticulture and wine growing industries.
It will apply to those with visas expiring between November 1 and March 31, and will extend their visas to June 30.
“While unemployment is increasing due to the [Covid-19] pandemic’s disruption, a lot of this is occurring in urban centres away from seasonal work,” Faafoi said.
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“Without these visa changes, there will not be enough people in the right locations to ensure fruit and produce is picked in time to ensure that flow-on economic recovery benefits protect other New Zealand jobs.”
The changes were for the 2020-21 season only, he said.
New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said it was a “positive step”, but the industry was concerned it did not apply to people working in wineries.
“There’s no point having all the work in the vineyard, if we can’t complete the work in the winery as well.”
Summerfruit NZ chief executive Richard Palmer said the changes were welcomed, but it was not yet known whether it would be enough to stave off the looming workforce crisis.
“It goes some way but there is uncertainty around how many there are and what the demands will be across the country. It’s an important part of the labour puzzle … Getting them into the regions will be part of the challenge we have to work on.”
Central Otago mayor Tim Cadogan said an initiative to connect growers with potential workers had been launched in Otago.
A mayoral taskforce group would hold a “Jobbortunities” event in Queenstown in October for growers to match with unemployed Kiwis and migrant workers.
”It’s essentially speed dating for jobs. People are really getting behind it, and we expect to get a significant number of growers looking for workers.”
Horticulture NZ chief executive Mike Chapman said the visa changes recognised horticulture was important to the New Zealand economy.
“It’s also really good for people stranded in New Zealand to give them the ability to continue working and help with harvest.”
Horticulture NZ was working with the Government and growers on other solutions, including bringing in workers from Covid-free countries.
“It does all depend on how many are stranded, and how many take advantage of this, how many Kiwis we can get in and if we are short what we can do next. That’s why we like the idea of Covid-free countries.”
Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said the announcement was “encouraging”, but the viticulture focus meant it was only “half the answer”.
“We also have responsibility to meet the needs of our wine companies,” he said.
“There’s no point growing the grapes unless you can make the wine.”
Pickens said wineries believed they could get through by using fewer overseas workers than normal, but they needed a core group to lead, train and oversee new recruits.
“It would be a very scary proposition to have 100 per cent new workers, who have never stepped foot in a winery.”
Given 80 per cent of New Zealand’s wine production happened in Marlborough, it was vital for the region’s economy, as well as that of New Zealand, Pickens said.