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Employers hope to recruit more Samoans

The horticulture sector in New Zealand is faced with a shortage of labour and employers have asked theNew Zealand Government to lift the cap and increase the number of Recognised Seasonal Employers workers.

Perrys Berrys Limited, one of the biggest strawberry growers in Auckland, New Zealand, is no different, says owner Francie Perry. 

She is in Samoa with her partner, Larry Coombes, to meet immigration officials and discuss ways to potentially increase the number of Samoans going to New Zealand to work for them. 

"The problem I think is fair to say is the New Zealand Government. Because, not only in the strawberry business, but in the whole horticulture business right across the country, there's a tremendous short of people," Larry said.  

"And everybody whether it's apple growers, kiwi fruit or strawberry, everybody says they are short of people and they want the government to lift the cap so that some more people from the islands can come in." 

"All around New Zealand in horticulture, everybody is saying we need more people. In size, it's not so bad, but it's still difficult because it's casual because there's such low unemployment in New Zealand and all our best workers have found full time work, but we still need to harvest, that's why we are pressing Government. It's a seven months programme, that's the maximum they can stay. The same people can come back after they do their seven months."

Francie said last year the Government approved 1700 people, which wasn't enough, and they allowed about 12,700 to come in. 

"So they had the cap, and they only increased it by 1700. We are pushing hard for them to increase the numbers as well. It is still not enough. Last year, we didn't get everything harvested because we just didn't have enough people. It's really disappointing to see all these beautiful fruit in the fields and you can't harvest them and they just all go to rot. 

"We are hoping this year we'll get enough because we've been very vocal. What we are trying to do is get the Government to increase the cap so we can have a greater base of Samoan people because it actually works better for us." 

She said they had recruited a lot of Samoans over the years but they tend to leave because they have found full time jobs. 

"And then of course we find we're short of staff, so we were late to apply for RSE because we really didn't need until the last two years, but because we had such good Samoan people working for us and the packers, the ones that come every season, the mums' and the grandmums' and the daughters, this was our focus really. 

Larry said Francie has been negotiating with immigration for the past eight months to get more RSEs for them because it's been a little unfair for them as they are the biggest growers, but they almost get penalised because they're in Auckland. 

"At the moment it's our quiet time, so we have about 35 Samoans. We prefer Samoans should the number increase because mostly the workforce in New Zealand the majority of them are Samoans, so culturally it makes it very easy. Tongan people are more war like."

"To be fair, we have some from the highlands of Papua New Guinea and they were good. We have to provide them with accommodation, Larry added.  

"I can say this genuinely, when we had transfers everyone said how they enjoyed working for Perrys Berry because they get nice accommodation, we are very fair and they earn good money."

Francie said the employees pay a figure towards the accommodation and also half of their air fare to New Zealand, and they pay the other half. 

The couple said they've had one or two Samoans on transfer who misbehaved, but generally they've been really good. 

"The ones we've chosen ourselves have been very good. We are allowed to recruit 153, but the number varies throughout the year." 

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