Boost in RSE numbers to help hort sector grow

The horticulture and winegrowing sector will have access to 1,600 more workers this season after the Government agreed to increase the Recognised Seasonal Employment Scheme (RSE) cap to 16,000, say Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

“We’ve increased the cap for the 2021/2022 season from 14,400 to 16,000 so employers in the horticulture and winegrowing sector can access more labour to help with planting, maintenance, harvesting, packing and winter pruning. It will also help set the sector up for the next season,” Damien O’Connor said.

“We’ve supported the sector to bring over 5,550 RSE workers to New Zealand since our borders closed in March 2020, the largest economic-based class border exception to date. This is in addition to the approximately 3,000 RSE workers who were already in New Zealand when our borders closed and have continued working here,” Kris Faafoi said.

Before COVID-19, the Government set out clear conditions the sector needed to meet before it would consider an increase to the Scheme’s cap. This included making jobs more attractive and accessible to New Zealanders by improving wages and working conditions, and offering training. Another factor has been reducing pressure on existing housing stock in some areas, by providing purpose-built accommodation.

“The sector has made good progress in these areas with wages having increased relative to the minimum wage and a significant increase in the number of purpose-built beds for workers,” Damien O’Connor said.

“The Government has worked hard alongside the food and fibre sector to also get Kiwis into jobs through our ‘Opportunity Grows Here’ campaign and Primary Sector Workforce Programme.

“This work has helped attract nearly 10,000 people into food and fibre sector jobs, but it’s clear our horticulture and winegrowing sectors need some extra help due to the seasonal peaks in workload.

“Our food and fibre sector continues to drive New Zealand’s economic recovery from COVID-19 with export revenue expected to top $50.8 billion by 30 June 2022.  This is testament to the commitment and resilience of the more than 367,000 hardworking people on the land and in the supply chains,” Damien O’Connor said.

The Government also granted a six-month extension in October for more than 8,500 Working Holiday and Supplementary Seasonal Employment (SSE) visa holders in New Zealand so the sector can continue to utilise this existing workforce.

The phased reopening of the Working Holiday Schemes from 13 March will also provide the sector with access to more workers to help close out the season.

“While we are announcing an increase to the cap for this season, it is important to note the ability to access the full cap may be impacted by pressures faced by labour-sending countries, such as localised COVID-19 outbreaks and the recent volcanic eruption in Tonga,” Kris Faafoi said.