While in Hawkes Bay last week I met with representatives from four seasonal primary industries that are the backbone of the region but which have traditionally struggled to find workers at harvest time.
The horticulture, agriculture, viticulture and silviculture industries have, in recent years, relied heavily on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme which allows employers to bring workers in from the Pacific Islands to help with the demand at harvest time.
The RSE scheme was a New Zealand First-Labour collaboration implemented in 2007 in response to a plea from seasonal employers who said they could not meet the peak demand for workers from the New Zealand labour market. The cap was initially set at 5000 workers a year but quickly increased as demand grew. Last year it stood at 12,850, with continued demand for an additional 5000 RSE workers per year.
In an ideal world, we would have more New Zealanders employed in these industries but we need to work harder to draw them in. The RSE scheme sees the Pacific Island workers kept together as a community, with housing, meals and transport provided for a fee. Offering an adapted version of the scheme would surely appeal to job-seeking New Zealanders too?
The system also needs tweaking to streamline it for employers. Currently they must renew their licence annually which adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. We would like to see this replaced with a five-year renewal requirement.
New Zealand First is working hard for our businesses to ensure that sensible options such as RSE scheme are in place to meet the demand for short-term labour, while at the same time ensuring New Zealanders are employed wherever possible.