Govt to allow more seasonal workers

Marlborough vineyard contractors have applauded a government move to bring in 1000 more workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

At the RSE Conference in Wellington yesterday, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse announced they would increase the annual cap of RSE workers to 9000 nationwide per year. The new rule would kick in from November.

The horticulture and viticulture industries had asked for an extra 2000 RSE positions, however one Marlborough vineyard contractor said 1000 would still bring relief.

Vinepower co-director Jono Bushell said demand for more workers in South Island vineyards was high.

"We have had our guys working seven days a week just to keep up. We've advertised nationally [for New Zealand workers] but we are struggling to find people."

Bushell and co-director Jason Kennard were always looking for Kiwi workers but were unsuccessful, he said.

Speaking from the conference, Bushell said they would definitely look at employing more workers under the RSE scheme. "And I think most Marlborough contractors will."

Grapeworx Marlborough owner Mack Pouwhare said the increase could not have come at a better time. "I was surprised to see 1000 to be honest. I would have thought between 400 and 600 . . . [but] if we didn't get the increase, someone was going to miss out.

"My workers have been going the extra mile this year and the workload just keeps increasing."

Pouwhare has more than 100 hectares of new development for the upcoming season, starting in November, and he needed more workers, he said.

He employs 150 RSE workers and has eight Marlborough workers.

Bennett and Woodhouse also announced a new programme at the conference - the New Zealand Seasonal Worker Programme. Still in the planning stage, the programme would provide more pastoral care and other support to ensure New Zealanders have access to seasonal work opportunities.

Pouwhare was not sure whether the new programme would work because it still came down to the attitude of the workers, he said. "I really can't say whether it will work or not . . . we are all for new schemes that would help but it is hard trying to keep Kiwis in the programmes."

The RSE scheme was introduced in 2006 to facilitate the temporary entry of additional workers from overseas to plant, maintain, harvest and pack crops in the horticulture and viticulture industries. Priority is given to workers from the Pacific. At the end of June, 936 RSE workers were registered in Marlborough.

The Marlborough Express