Vineyards struggling to find 'strong committed' workers

CHLOE WINTER
Last updated 13:05 26/06/2014
Teana Tongaia
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ
VINE STRIPPING: Vineyard worker Teana Tongaia from Kiribati, an island in the central Pacific Ocean, strips the vines at a Fairhall vineyard.

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Marlborough vineyard contractors are struggling to find "strong" and "committed" workers.

Earlier this week, a job was listed on a New Zealand backpackers website looking for "strong workers" in Marlborough's vineyards, adding that they were hard to find.

Provine owner Ken Prouting said there was always a shortage of strong pruners and strippers.

"We've got guys that apply and they think they can do it and they do a couple of weeks and then they leave us. It happens every year.

"Finding people to stay the whole season is hard."

Prouting received anywhere between 20 and 30 calls each day for work, but while there was plenty of interest, not all were cut out for the job, he said.

"You've got to have an eye for pruning. It's repetitive that's where the pain comes from.

"It's continuous work and there is a different mentality, you've got to have discipline."

Almost half of Prouting's workers were employed under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, he said. He employs about 250 people - 85 of them were from Vanuatu and Kiribati.

Most of his workers do a nine-hour day, he said.

Grapeworx Marlborough owner Mack Pouwhare said commitment was also an important part of the job.

"What's happening is growers are going back to hand stripping, not machine stripping so that means more hard work.

"I'm struggling to get committed workers and Kiwi workers . . . vineyard work is only for some people, it's not for everyone. You've got to want to do it," Pouwhare said.

"At the end of the day it comes down to their work ethic. They either have a good work ethic or they don't."

Pruning and striping the blocks required hard work from strong men, he said.

Vinepower co-director Jason Kennard said he was struggling to find more committed workers rather than strong workers.

"You don't have to be overly strong. We have a number of woman working for us."

He employs about 170 workers from Vanuatu, Thailand and the Solomon Islands. Of those workers, 20 were woman who mainly wrapped vines, Kennard said.

He was finding it difficult to employ New Zealand workers, he said.

"We've been advertising for the last five weeks, we need to employ another 40 Kiwis and we've only managed to get two."

To date, there are 936 workers in Marlborough under the RSE scheme.

At the same time last year there were 1406.

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- The Marlborough Express

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