Increase in RSE workers needed

24 Nov 2016

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The horticulture and viticulture industries rely on seasonal workers for harvest and pruning. It is not a full time job but it is an essential one to ensure that the crop is picked at the optimum time and skilled pruning is undertake. To assist with these seasonal tasks workers come from the Pacific Island for around six months each year. This is called the Recognise Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. Last season, the Government allowed horticulture and viticulture to employ 9,500 RSE workers. We thank the Government for increasing the number of RSE workers permitted in New Zealand by 1,000 to 10,500.

Horticulture and viticulture are in significant growth phases. Recent media announcements are evidence of this, with Zespri issuing another 400 hectares of Gold licences and the demand for export cherries outstripping the supply. Vegetable growing is also expanding. To allow for this growth there needs to be an increase in New Zealander being employed permanently, an increase in New Zealanders being employed seasonally and an increase in seasonal RSE workers.

The most important point about the RSE workers is they do not remain in New Zealand and do not become New Zealand citizens. After they have finished their work, they go home to the Pacific Islands. They make an enormously important contribution to the New Zealand economy and take back their earnings to their families in the Pacific Islands. The RSE employers and the wider industry also provide aid and support for the workers families and villages especially after there have been disasters. The RSE scheme is a true win-win. 

The RSE scheme will be 10 years old next year. Many of the RSE workers return for a number of years and as a result their skills levels have increased. With the increase in skill levels have come pay increases. On average their pay rates are 23% higher than the minimum wage with increases over the past three years around the 13% mark.

To help make the case for an increase in the number of RSE workers the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) were jointly commissioned by government and industry to analyse the needs of horticulture and viticulture. NZIER’s key finding was that labour is scarce. Today, in the order of 2,000 more workers are required and by 2022 the shortage grows exponentially to nearly 6,000. For the coming season, the predicted shortfall mid-point is around 3,000. So the Government’s decision to permit another 1,000 RSE workers into New Zealand for the next season is very timely and appreciated. It will greatly assist industry growth and enable us to reach our target of $10 billion in earnings by 2020.

- Mike Chapman, CEO