Call for Samoan seasonal workers to skip quarantine in New Zealand

The leader of a political party in New Zealand, David Seymour, wants Samoan seasonal workers to be able to travel to New Zealand without quarantine for the next picking season, arguing the industry needs them more than ever.

The ACT Party leader, who is also the Member of Parliament for Epsom in Auckland, said with Samoa’s COVID-19 free status, seasonal workers should be able to go over without spending two weeks in isolation and instead get straight to work.

He called on the newly appointed Immigration Minister, Kris Fa'afoi, to move where the former Minister had not, and to allow workers from COVID-19 free countries to travel freely.

The horticulture sector is facing a season with significantly fewer workers than ever before as demand for New Zealand’s fruit and vegetables increases locally and abroad.

 “Those I talk to in the sector say they cannot get workers for love nor money,” Mr. Seymour said in a statement.

“Like every season, the industry is totally reliant on temporary workers. That includes all of the other workers in packhouses, administration, distribution and retail who need the fruit to be picked first.”

New Zealand Apples and Pears spokesperson Gary Jones told the Samoa Observer that without a guaranteed stream of Recognised Seasonal Employer (R.S.E.) Scheme workers and working holiday visa workers, the industry will be in dire straits.

And while former Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway expected recently unemployed New Zealanders to make up the shortfall, Mr. Jones is not optimistic.

“To pick a hectare of apples you have to pick 60 tonne of apples on average. To do that you have to climb a 2.4 metre ladder multiple times,” he explained.

“The key number is you have to climb somewhere between 20 to 25 vertical kilometres – three times Mount Everest from sea level carrying 60 tonnes of apples. And an average picker will pick over a hectare, 74.1 tonnes in a season.”

He said he does not expect New Zealanders laid off from their jobs due to COVID-19 to leap at the opportunity to work in the orchards.

Mr. Seymour agrees.

“Some say, ‘just increase the wages’. That is naïve. You can earn $30 an hour as a good picker, and prices for fruit are set in a global market,” he said.

“Kris Faafoi is a much better operator than Iain Lees-Galloway, who was hopeless on the issue of R.S.E. 

“My appeal to Kris is this: come to the table and advocate for the horticulture sector. Open up to Samoa so the industry can have a season with sufficient pickers.”

Several hundred seasonal workers from Samoa and across the region, having been stranded in New Zealand after their season was up, have been able to get home on special chartered flights or seats on repatriation flights.

But by the end of September many of their employers will be getting desperate to have them and their peers back again.

Mr. Jones said a conversation about how to manage their return and get adequate worker numbers for the upcoming picking season has to be strategic. He has already raised the prospect of having workers fulfil their quarantine period onsite in their orchard accommodations. 

“As you can image the officials in New Zealand have a lot on and a lot of priorities being juggled,” Mr. Jones said.

“As industry we are asking them to prioritise this.”

Mr. Faafoi took on the Immigration portfolio last week after Mr. Lees-Galloway was fired following revelations he had an inappropriate relationship with a former staffer. 

Mr. Faafoi is now responsible for several major ministries: he is the Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media; Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Government Digital Services, and Immigration and is the Associate Minister for Housing.

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour which is responsible for seasonal workers in Samoa has been approached for comment. 

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