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New Zealand: Labour Shortages Threaten Kiwi Crops
- May 12, 2018 -

The Government of New Zealand is struggling desperately to save its kiwi harvest. Their latest measure has been relaxing the conditions of vacation visas that it grants foreign tourists to facilitate the entry of foreign workers to the country to collect and pack the fruit.

The producers of the Bay of Plenty themselves sent the alarm voice when they saw that, for the first time in a decade, they were unable to cover the vacancies for the harvest, according to the British newspaper The Guardian.

With this new measure, foreign tourists can change the conditions of their visa to work in orchards and packing houses. "The last thing we want is for the fruit to rot on the trees or on the ground," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

The harvesting work of the kiwi fruit is physically demanding, with a minimum salary of A $16.50 per hour (10.38 euro). It also requires workers to temporarily move from place of residence, which makes this employment option not too attractive for many New Zealanders, including those who live on social benefits.

"We have ongoing discussions with industry leaders on how to make the industry more attractive to workers by improving employment practices," said Regional Commissioner Mike Bryant.

The executive director of Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated, Nikki Johnson, said that the problem of filling seasonal vacancies forced producers to ask the government for help. The demand for kiwi consumption has increased worldwide, especially in China, with an increase of 19%.

There are 6,000 people unemployed in the Bay of Plenty region while the kiwi sector needs to immediately incorporate 1,200 workers. The general manager of the fruit company Apata, Stuart Weston, told Radio New Zealand that the situation was serious, and that raising wages wouldn't make a difference. "Inexplicably, people prefer to go hungry instead of working in a packing house," he said. "We are sending trucks to Murupara, Tokaroa, Whakatāne, and Rotorua, to try to attract more people who want to work," he added.