Seasonal workers in limbo following farm's closure

A strawberry farm in New Zealand that ceased operations last December has Samoan seasonal workers whose contracts end next month.

Radio New Zealand quoted the owner of Perry’s Berrys, Francie Perry, as saying that their business has ceased strawberry growing operations.

A senior official within Samoa’s Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour, which oversees the country’s seasonal workers’ programs, has confirmed when contacted by the Samoa Observer that the farm employs Samoan seasonal workers. 

"We are not aware of the closure of Perry’s Berrys farm in Auckland,” said Lemalu Nele Leilua, who is the MCIL Assistant Chief Executive Officer (Labor Employment Employee Program).

''We do have R.S.E workers still working for this employer in Auckland and will finish their contracts in April/May 2021.”

It is not known if the Ministry will contact the New Zealand authorities to follow up on the plight of the Samoan seasonal workers following the farm's closure.

The reported closure has stirred a strong rebuke from New Zealand politician and ACT Party leader David Seymour, who blames the New Zealand government for not letting seasonal workers from COVID-free countries like Samoa take up the jobs.

‘’COVID is facing every country but we have choices in how we face it," he told the RNZ.

‘’The (New Zealand) government needed to ease the restrictions in Pacific seasonal workers in line with countries like Australia, which has accepted thousands of seasonal workers from the Pacific since the outbreak of Covid-19.

‘’Samoa has no Covid they provide workers. NZ business provides much-needed remittances to our friends around the Pacific and it's madness that we keep our borders closed when there’s a win-win available from opening them to those Covid-free countries.”

According to Ms Perry, the company ceased their operations before Christmas last year.

‘’We had to stop at the beginning of Christmas week because our fruit was too soft and too red and too risky to ship even locally’’

She added that if she didn’t get enough overseas workers on time the fruit will go unpicked. ‘’We told our supermarket chain that we can’t supply Christmas week, we were so behind with our picking and overnight price doubled.”

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