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Back to the news list Overseas worker scheme in 'limbo' as border restri
3 August 2020 - Media Release - Stuff NZ
Uncertainty surrounds the scheme which provides vital labour for Marlborough’s wine industry as contractors face potential shortages of overseas workers.

The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme sees workers from the Pacific employed in the viticulture and horticulture industry.

In Marlborough, close to 75 per cent of all pruning and development work in the wine industry is undertaken by RSE workers.

While some workers were unable to get into the country due to Covid-19 restrictions, those who were in for summer had been able to stay on and fill labour shortages.

Vinepower chief executive Gus Struthers said there was “uncertainty” around how they would fill the workforce going foward, should workers go home.

“At the moment it’s a one way flow, they [RSE workers] can get home, but given the circumstances they can’t come back,” Struthers said.

“In the short term, pruning is well on track, but from there, there’s a level of uncertainty.

In Marlborough, close to 75 per cent of all pruning and development work in the wine industry is undertaken by RSE workers.
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF
In Marlborough, close to 75 per cent of all pruning and development work in the wine industry is undertaken by RSE workers.
“It’s a moving picture, until we get some certainty it’s really just a matter of watch this space.”

Struthers said they were engaging with all of their staff to see if they wanted to stay in the country.

“Then we have to give Kiwis preference and balance that,” he said.

He said in the short term the industry was also trying to get some clarity on repatriation to Pacific Island countries.

Focus Labour Solutions Ltd owner Craig Mill said he felt he was in “limbo” as he did not know how he would get his workers going forward.

“I’m so glad we’ve got it [RSE scheme] but we're in limbo at the moment, I don’t know what the answer is,” Mill said.

Focus Labour Solutions Ltd employed Kiwis, backpackers as well as workers through the RSE scheme.

“Looking into the next year, we’ve got borders closed, so I’m trying to work out where they’re [workers] going to come from.

“I’ve also got concerns about getting Kiwi workers because getting them into the region is not easy. I’ve never had a business where I can’t plan and organise things, but this decision is out of my control."

Currently, Mill had Kiwis and RSE workers employed for winter pruning. He predicted his RSE workers would be here until at least the end of the year.

“They’re supposed to be going home in the next couple of months but there's no flights,” he said.

Thornhill Horticulture Contracting Ltd managing director Richard Bibby said the majority of their RSE workers were happy to continue working in New Zealand.

“Some want to go home, particularly the Ni-Vanuatu guys which is understandable with the cyclone, but a lot of others understand they have an opportunity to make some good money,” Bibby said.

“I think for us the main thing is getting some certainty around whether visas can be extended long enough to keep these workers here.

“Because we do need some to stay to complete next year's work, because we can’t see the borders opening.”

Bibby said they were assisting workers that wanted to get home.

The RSE cap had been frozen as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and rising unemployment. .
THE-MARLBOROUGH-EXPRESS
The RSE cap had been frozen as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and rising unemployment. .
Last year, former Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced an increase in the RSE cap from 3150 seasonal worker visas over two years. It meant the 2020/21 year was expected to see the cap rise 1600 places to 16,000.

However, with rising unemployment, Lees-Galloway said earlier this month he expected more Kiwis would be available to do the work, and the Government decided to keep the cap at 14,400 for the next year.

“I want to give employers in the horticulture and viticulture industries as much certainty as possible in uncertain times, so I have taken the decision now even though next season’s workers will only be able to enter New Zealand when it is safe to relax border restrictions,” Lees-Galloway said

To fill labour shortages, Marlborough's wine industry received funding to train up 200 Kiwi job-seekers, out of work due to Covid-19, to make sure the vines were ready for next year’s harvest.

The Ministry of Social Development funding was specific to Marlborough where the pandemic had resulted in a skills shortage for winter pruning.

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said about 40 Kiwis had completed an online module and it was understood these workers were now working in the industry.

Pruning of Marlborough's vines was on track to finish in September, Pickens said.
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