MPs and horticulture reps discuss labour issues
27 October 2016, The Gisborne Herald
More than 50 horticulture producers and government agency representatives attended a meeting at the Bushmere Arms yesterday hosted by Activate Tairawhiti, called to discuss labour issues the industry faces here over the next three to five years.
The meeting called for support from Government for a “shop window” for horticulture in this district and a support person on the ground to help co-ordinate labour resources.
“The growth in horticulture here will generate more than 1200 new jobs over the next three to five years,” said Activate Tairawhiti chief executive Steve Breen.
“A fantastic opportunity is there for a strong partnership across the various horticulture industries here with Government.”
Mr Breen said there was a “positive approach” from all concerned at the meeting over practical actions to take advantage of the future opportunities for the industry.
Minister of Social Development and East Coast MP Anne Tolley told the meeting the Goverment wants to invest in people looking for work in the region.
“They have potential and we as Government have to find ways to dig out that potential.
“We need to work with horticulture employers to expose the jobs that are there in that industry and that will involve change.
“If we keep doing things the same way we’ll get the same result,” Mrs Tolley said.
Change for the region
“Change cannot be designed in Wellington. It must be designed here. Let’s be open. Let’s get on with it.”
LeaderBrand chief executive Richard Burke said some sort of co-ordination of labour resources was needed in the district.
“That co-ordination should be led by local industry and not by Government. There is a big volume of casual labour here, a huge pool, and it’s a bloody good one.
“I think our labour force here is the best in New Zealand and we can be really proud of that.
“If Activate Tairawhiti is serious about lifting overall employment here and about the role horticulture can play, then it should be actively involved in the process.”
Riversun owner Geoff Thorpe said the key to solving future labour force issues here was the “image” of horticulture as a career opportunity.
“It is easier to find a top class microbiologist than it is to find a top class tractor driver here.
“Our issues are finding good team leaders and supervisors — and good tractor drivers for example.
“If we can change the image and attract more people, then an apprenticeship scheme is an important solution,” Mr Thorpe said.
“There are incredibly exciting career opportunities right across the board in our industry in Gisborne.”
Getting young people on board
Kiwifruit grower representative Tim Egan said “we’ve got to get into the schools more and get more of our young people on board.”
“We have lots of different crops grown here, we’re very diverse and we need to get together more,” Mr Egan said.
“We could limit the economic growth of Gisborne if we don’t get our heads around the labour question. There could be big issues if we don’t.”
The comment was also made that the curriculum in schools needed to be changed to encourage more students into horticulture.
Scott Wilson from Kaiaponi Farms said because Gisborne was a small, relatively isolated region, it had so far escaped the labour issues experienced elsewhere.
“But we will run into problems in the future if the local labour supply is not addressed.”
Bill Thorpe from First Fresh said continuity of employment was another key factor for the workforce.
“The seasonal scaling up and down of the workforce over the next four years is going to be a challenge. We need people who come into the horticulture workforce to stay in a work routine.”