Growers criticised for poor response to Kiwi job hunters

Central Otago fruit growers are not only failing to respond to Kiwis applying for work but also doing a poor job of advertising for staff, a union representative says.

First Union organiser and Unions Otago member Sonja Mitchell said roles advertised did not give jobseekers enough information for an informed choice.

Delayed or non-responses to applicants was also an issue.

Multiple potential employees contacted the Otago Daily Times citing weeks-long waits for a reply to applications — if a reply was received at all — for jobs listed on orchards or vineyards throughout the region.

This week industry representatives admitted application administration was becoming a problem.

But, Mitchell said it was only one of a raft of issues.

Unions Otago was unconvinced there was a shortage of people ready and willing to work and the feedback from people who were applying was proof of that.

The latest Stats NZ household labourforce survey said unemployment in Otago had increased to 5.1 per cent and “under-utilisation” (underemployment) — or people in partial work — levels to 15.4 per cent, she said.

Employers seemed to offer conditions people could not afford or placed barriers in the way of them applying.

Mitchell implied the industry had become over-reliant on overseas workers and lackadaisical over employing Kiwis.

“Then [they] make a case for bringing in foreign workers and/or partially opening the borders, thereby expanding the pool of people needing work.”

When Unions Otago members looked at horticulture and viticulture jobs in Central Otago on the Work the Seasons website they saw “obvious hurdles”.

There was minimal information supplied about the jobs on offer, many did not describe minimum hours of guaranteed employment, which days, hours, and times of work, nor the duration of season, Mitchell said.

Pay-rates were largely not advertised; those that did only guaranteed minimum wage.

While some offered accommodation no other information was provided, such as who paid for it, nor did they specify which “Central Otago” location.

To claim Kiwi workers were not interested in jobs that were not properly defined seemed “a bit disingenuous”.

“When people go to the trouble of considering or applying for advertised jobs, employers should be responding to applications in a timely way — to do otherwise risks wasting people’s time, effort, and good faith; and it isn’t a terribly convincing look when the sector is lobbying Government for the right to bring in more overseas workers during a Covid-19 pandemic.”

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan would not be drawn on the issue, instead referring the ODT to Central Otago Labour Market Governance Group chairman Stephen Jeffery for comment.

Jeffery said the industry had recently employed a labour market co-ordinator in Central Otago and that role might help alleviate the applicant backlog.

“In terms of individual growers and how they recruit, that is a far more complex issue.”

He said there may have been some “miscommunication” within the industry, and there were differences in harvest start times.

That was something he would raise industry wide in Central Otago today.

Ministry of Social Development director industry partnership Amanda Nicolle said it encouraged employers to provide as much information as possible to job seekers on their advertisements, and to keep in touch with those who apply.

“We provide a suite of tools for employers to help them manage the recruitment process, including keeping applicants up to date.”

She said like many job boards and notice board type sites in New Zealand, the listings available were user-generated.

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