Horowhenua Chronicle - 2021-06-11


RSE crew ‘skilled and worth extra’ growers say


Janine Baalbergen

Overseas workers, especially those allowed in via the RSE scheme for up to seven months each year, are a crucial component of the New Zealand horticulture industry, according to local growers. Though large Horowhenua growers such as Woodhaven Gardens and Lewis Farms have a large local workforce, some crops and jobs require overseas expertise, they said. “RSE workers are not cheap labour,” said Geoff Lewis of Lewis Farms, who grow strawberries and asparagus. “They are also highly skilled in what they do and come back to us year after year. They work hard, are a pleasure to work with and bring great skills and attitude to the team. “Anyone who comes in as an RSE worker has to be paid while in quarantine and employers stump up half their travel costs, as well as accommodation costs while here. Most of them earn a living wage, and in many cases much more than that. They make good money while here. “But they do good work, are reliable, have a great attitude, and bring great skills. They also work very long hours in all weather. The RSE scheme helps us to grow as a business.” He said in the past, vegetable-growing businesses were small family-owned operations who could provide part-time work to locals. “There are now fewer businesses and they are much bigger, needing more people. “We rely on an efficient workforce and for several months of the year we need RSE workers. Horticulture work is very specialised and at the height of harvest for say pipfruit (Hawke’s Bay), kiwifruit (Bay of Plenty) or grapes (Marlborough) there aren’t enough locals available.” Since travel restrictions have been in place, many RSE workers got stuck here and are finding employment around the country to keep afloat financially. “Some of them have been away from home for almost two years now. That is a big sacrifice for our benefit. I think the Government needs to recognise this,” said Jay Clark of Woodhaven Gardens. Working in an orchard or vege patch may seem a good gig for locals, but few have the means to travel around the country, while paying rent or a mortgage somewhere, and have someone else take care of the kids or elderly parents, while they are in a paddock or orchard hundreds of miles from home. “Moving Kiwis around the country is very hard to do,” said Lewis. “In your own neighbourhood, horticulture work is only available a few months of the year, meaning you need to find other employment for the rest of the time and once people have got a part-time job somewhere they are often lost to


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