Accommodation tight in Bay for seasonal workers

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Accommodation facilities in the Bay of Plenty are spilling over as the kiwifruit picking season hits full swing, with few rooms to spare in the Bay’s tight housing market.

NZKGI’s Nikki Johnson: well aware accommodation for seasonal workers is a big issue in the Bay and impacts the industry’s ability to attract seasonal staff. Photo/Supplied

Wes Archer, manager of Kiwi Corral Working Hostel in Te Puke, said he was turning almost 100 people away every week as his 350-bed facility was stretched to its limits.

“This is pretty much the same as it was last year, we are full right through until the end of June, even then we will drop down to about 75 percent full. Our quietest time is around December-January.” 

Archer has recently been advising people to head out of town to seek accommodation in Rotorua.

“If you have a car and there is a group of you, it’s often a better option, and only 35 minutes to get back here for work,” he said.

Despite the temptation of expand, he said it was unlikely at Kiwi Corral due to the cost of providing accommodation.

“Realistically you would need to allow about $2.0 to $2.5 million to increase by 100 here, the cost is about $25,000 a bed, and then you would only be 100 percent full for three months of the year.”

He said compliance and regulatory demands including provision of sewerage systems on rural sites make the cost prohibitive.

We will refer staff to accommodation if they need it, but I know most accommodation is pretty full this year – this is what happens when thousands of kiwifruit workers flood the Bay area for 10-12 weeks every year.”

– Derek Masters

Packhouse operator DMS Progrowers has recently expanded its Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) worker accommodation at its Te Puna pack-house site from 50 to 100 beds.

But chief executive Derek Masters said DMS was unlikely to be building accommodation for seasonal workers in the foreseeable future.

“We will refer staff to accommodation if they need it, but I know most accommodation is pretty full this year. This is what happens when thousands of kiwifruit workers flood the Bay area for 10-12 weeks every year. By the end of June it will even out considerably.”

He agreed one of the biggest barriers to building accommodation was the sheer cost for facilities used over such a short period of time. 

“The district plan is under review at the moment with the Western Bay of Plenty Regional Council,” said Masters. “They are looking at changing it to allow seasonal worker accommodation to be built on orchards and in post-harvest areas.”

But he cautioned the physical footprint of most packhouse facilities was so tight that also allowing for accommodation on site would be problematic for many in the sector.

“And as soon as you provide it, you also need to allow for sewerage, stormwater and facilities. I think this is part of the reason the council is looking to make it easier for alternative type accommodation providers to open up outside the kiwifruit season.”

Nikki Johnson, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) chief executive, said the wider industry and NZKGI are well aware accommodation for seasonal workers is a big issue in the Bay of Plenty, and it impacts the industry’s ability to attract seasonal staff. 

She said the industry is committed to providing new sources of seasonal accommodation and NZKGI is working with local councils to address policy and operational constraints to achieving that.

“Our 2017 labour shortage report indicates that in excess of 3500 new beds are being planned by the kiwifruit industry by 2023.  For the 2019 season, NZKGI provided a list of potential providers to seasonal workers looking for accommodation.”

Wes Archer said it was quite likely the kiwifruit sector would have to have a look at what the grape growing sector in the South Island has done to facilitate worker accommodation.

It is rare now to find any Kiwis on most South Island horticultural operations working as seasonal workers.

“Down there growers have got together to purpose-build facilities for staff.”

One building company confirmed the cost of providing worker-style accommodation had soared with regulations around fire and safety compliance increasing building costs, even for relatively small 10 square metre cabin areas.

Management of the Te Puke Holiday Park confirmed they were fully booked over the picking season, but welcomed the presence of RSE workers who were very well-behaved and looked after the place. At this time of year they could afford to be picky about who stays there, a spokesperson said.

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