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Cap on foreign seasonal workers to be increased by over 3,000 to 16,000; new plan for regional workforce plans also announced

Cap on foreign seasonal workers to be increased by over 3,000 to 16,000; new plan for regional workforce plans also announced

The Government says it will provide more support for the country’s horticulture and viticulture sectors with an increase in the quota for seasonal workers.

“For the first time we are announcing a two-year increase to the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) quota. This will help address industry concerns that a lack of certainty on RSE numbers makes it hard for them to plan for labour needs and accommodation requirements,” Iain Lees-Galloway says.

He says it will see the cap on the number of temporary visas that can be granted for foreign seasonal workers rise by 3,150 over two years to 16,000.

“The cap increase set for 2020/21 is conditional on the industry proving it’s making the horticulture and viticulture sectors easier and more attractive for Kiwi workers to work in. They’ll also have to up their game and make sure there is more accommodation built for their workers.

“I continue to encourage the industry to do more to accommodate its workforce and make sure Kiwis aren’t squeezed out of local housing by an increase in the RSE cap."

He says last year he challenged the industry to do more to employ New Zealanders, consider paying workers more, look at automation, build accommodation for their workers and stamp out exploitation.

“I’m confident we’ve struck the right balance between supporting industry growth and preparing for forecast labour shortfalls, while ensuring there are clear incentives for employers to hire more Kiwi staff and improve worker accommodation.”

The Government’s proposed increase in the annual seasonal workers quota comes as it outlines other wider plans for regional labour markets.

Regional workforce planning

Lees-Galloway says a new proposal to create regional workforce plans will help address the country’s skills shortages and improve training and employment opportunities for New Zealanders.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is now seeking public feedback on the proposal to establish 15 Regional Skills Leadership Groups (RSLGs) around the country. They will be tasked with identifying skills and workforce shortages in reach region and then proposing actions needed to address them through Regional Workforce Plans.

Lees-Galloway says the new organisations are expected to work alongside recent changes the Government has made to temporary work visas and the vocational education sector. It hopes to have the new regional groups up and running by mid-2020 and they will deliver their first Regional Workforce Plans by the end of next year.

“Our immigration reforms will help regions get the workers they need, while also ensuring that New Zealanders are first in line for jobs. With proper planning at a regional level, immigration can help address skills shortages in the short term, while training more New Zealanders with the skills our workforces need,” Lees-Galloway says.

Proposed make-up

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins says the groups will feature regional industry leaders, along with representatives from economic development agencies, workers and government organisations and local iwi.

A cabinet paper from MBIE to the Minister of Employment Willie Jackson from earlier this month states:

“Presently, a lack of coordination is resulting in suboptimal decision-making by local participants and hindering attempts to support a shift towards a high-skill labour market. Moving towards a higher value labour market requires a concerted effort from both supply and demand side participants. Cohesive planning can support this shift.

“As such, we propose establishing 15 Regional Skills Leadership Groups (RSLGs) to undertake a labour market planning function in each region. The overarching purpose of the RSLGs will be to facilitate regular dialogue about regional labour market needs that builds more cohesive, coordinated decision-making at a regional level.”

Wider support for regional planning

The cabinet briefing paper says the discussion documents for both the Government’s changes to vocational training and the temporary work visa system called for the creation of regional labour market planning. It says this was driven by the realisation that they both needed to be responsive to the needs of local labour markets.

“Both documents noted that in the absence of an effective planning function, the ability of systems to be responsive were limited. Responsive systems would create the right incentives for employers and firms to invest more in moving their workforces up the skills ladder. In a similar manner, the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s report recommended the establishment of regional advisory groups to improve coordination across regional labour market participants.

“Together these work programmes identify that the status quo is not sufficient and more is needed to deliver effective labour market planning and co-ordination at the regional level.”

MBIE proposes a policy review of the RSLG model after between three and five years to see whether the groups are “working as anticipated, and to evaluate whether they are having the desired impact in relation to skills and labour market outcomes”.

Vocational training and work visa changes

The Government first announced drastic measures to reform the country’s vocational training sector in February. Under the proposed changes Hipkins plans to establish a unified, national system of vocational education and training. This will see the existing government owned institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) brought together under one entity. The changes will also see redefined roles for education providers and industry bodies Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) to improve the role of industry and employers.

Changes announced this month to the employer-assisted temporary work visa system will see the existing skills bands replaced with a simple remuneration threshold aligned to the median wage. There will also be a stronger labour market test for lower-paid workers and removing it altogether for higher-paid jobs outside the main centres. The temporary work visa process will also be simplified with six visa categories replaced with one temporary work visa.

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Wages should be decided by the market, worker surplus wages down, worker shortage wages up. This a disaster for regional NZ, it's setting us up as a low wage economy. It's putting corporations ahead of people.


Agreed. I'm not sure how this helps anyone. Wage levels have to be allowed to adjust to market rates not be eroded by allowing in cheap unskilled labour. There is a price Kiwis will pick fruit, and that's the wage for the job.

Mr Lees-Galloway needs to go get a job in an orchard and see how hard it is to survive on wages paid

I think the thousands of work-ready unskilled NZers on jobseeker benefits should be made to work on orchards and earn their dime. Win-win!
Speaking of those willing to work, I don't believe wages are the only problem keeping them away from these jobs. The industry is mired by problems of seasonality and low productivity.
We cannot guarantee high, first-world wages and living standards for our regional populace solely on fruit farming. Policy initiatives like economic diversification, upskilling and mechanisation may, however, help us get there.

Exactly makes practical sense, of the 280,000 tax paid beneficiaries who can work it would provide them work ethic and that great feeling they are contributing to NZ economy rather than importing low skilled immigrants into a country where housing, health , schools infrastructure is swamped. Politicians need to deliver and be held to account on there election promises.

most of the unemployed live nowhere near where the picking is, so add in the cost of sending them there and housing them and they make nothing.
the ones that come from the islands live in crap conditions here and send every cent left over back which back in the islands makes a huge difference
ask them if they enjoy it and they will tell you no, they hate most of it especially being away from family but it is a sacrifice they have to do for their families

Farmers foot the bill for bringing RSE workers over from the Islands to the regions. I believe putting unemployed Kiwis on a bus from wherever to the region would cost far less.
Australia is trialling a 'Newstart' policy where unskilled welfare recipients who've been out of work for prolonged periods face a reduction in their benefits unless they fill up one of the thousands of unskilled vacancies across the country.

Or farmers could offer wages like the ones that used to attract New Zealanders. My father used to pick fruit when he was younger. We worked out the equivalent wage today (using the RBNZ wage inflation calculator) as being the equivalent of $36 per hour. Plus accommodation provided in the dorm. Fruit growers might have more success in attracting Kiwis if they were prepared to pay what the market will cater to.

So effectively prison labour, but without the chains? Yeah, i can't see that going wrong at all. How long after that policy is started before all the complaints start about the boozing, drugs, fighting and breeding in the regions start?

And this from the so called workers party! You wouldn't think a union would put up with this.

National party would do the same.

Bringing seasonal workers is win-win solution for both farmers to cut down costs and workers to earn foreign income that is much higher than the income if working the same job in the home country.

As for the argument of keeping low wage for local workers and against regional employment, NOT enough or NO NZ citizens or residents in the region would like to be a seasonal worker !!!! Of course, unless their benefits are cut to none.

NZPUP would go one step further to not apply NZ's minimum wage to these seasonal worker but let the market to decide what is the best wage level.

I see you are back Beijing. NZPUP... the don't actually exist mate.

I am planning to get registered because I (all most NZers are) am sick of National with SB, Labour, Green, NZ first.

I was voting for Peter Dunn but the good guy was gone.

Ah yes, the good old "let's prioritise the failing businesses over the self-supporting ones" logic.

Use of seasonal workers in horticulture means ever increasing need for them.
The government needs to throw a lot of money at automation to replace them.
A plausible effort at managing immigration and they throw money at every thing else so why not..

Shipping in workers for the work in the regions is why the only people who can afford to live a quality life are the landholders. We really need to shift taxes off labour and onto land.

Does anyone know what these seasonal workers actually get paid per hour?

The wage ain't much. Also the workers have to make compulsory huge kickbacks via overpriced accomodation etc. Corruption.

Oh the Zespri fruit picking robot is finally here...or as it is known in the industry...exploited workers from the islands. We can di better than this, I'm ashamed!

I’m ashamed too, we aren’t far from the slave trade of the Southern United States culturally.
We justify it but they did too , got to pick that cotton..

If 16,000 is better for NZ than 13,000 why not 16,001 or 160,000 or a million? What is the rationale behind a cap?

Seasonal workers from overseas are good because they usually have picking experience (Czech Republic, Canada, Chile), know other pickers who are good, and tend to choose the cheaper option when it comes to accomodation, i.e., campervan, tenting, or freedom camping.

In cherry picking, you need to pick a minimum amount of buckets per day that equates to minimum wage ($5-6 per bucket). Every bucket over this threshold is paid out as a bonus. Too many days under and you’re gone. Some pickers only make minimum, some make $1200 a week. Depending on competition, you might have to adjust your bucket rate to be more attractive, just to get picker attention. If 50 pickers hear that the bloke next door is offering $1 more per bucket, that can be $20-100 extra per day depending on required picking technique and variety, and suddenly your workforce has been cut in half. You want companies to work together to avoid this happening, but that could mean one company not having enough pickers to get the job done.

During harvest, one day you’ll need 20 pickers, the next you might require 120. This is tough to overcome, but it’s the nature of the game. You also need to factor in how unpredictable a picking season can be. One bad overnight frost can wipe out 30-50% of your potential harvest just like that.

NZ workers tend to be used as supervisors, because of their better English skills. As pickers, New Zealanders are unreliable. They lack the motivation to pick fast, they want to go on holiday around the Christmas/New Years period, and want better accomodation. This means orchard owners have to then spend thousands and thousands for better accomodation that tend to be used in spring/summer only. Why spend 40k on more accomodation when this could go towards hiring another fulltime worker, which are also hard to get in smaller regions. Here I see a gap in the market for portable container units that you hire for a certain period, then return.

Automated picking machines have a negative as well. In Cromwell, there’s over 300 pickers in the region for over two months. Now think what effect that has on the local economy.

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Days to the General Election: 36
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.