File photo. Radio NZ

The Bulletin: Massive workforce boost for horticulture sector

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Massive workforce boost for horticulture sector, wild opening day at parliament, and dwindling specialist doctor workforce raises burnout fears.

Two announcements from the government this morning will give the horticulture sector a major workforce boost. As the NZ Herald’s Derek Cheng reports, 2000 places in managed isolation will be made available to Pacific workers, starting early next year. This is something the industry has been crying out for, with dire warnings of fruit rotting on the vine, without the regular cohort of seasonal workers coming in. They’ll come from countries with low Covid risk, and arrivals will be staggered so as not to take up all the capacity at once.

Currently, there are about 6000 Recognised Seasonal Employer workers in the country, who have been allowed to stay on through Covid. As this Farmers Weekly piece about the busy times of the year for kiwifruit outlined, the industry didn’t get the numbers that it was expecting or needed over the autumn harvest. Working holiday visas can be automatically extended this year to enable work in horticulture and wine, but because of border restrictions the flow of new arrivals just isn’t there. Within those constraints, this is a pretty significant move from the government to protect the viability of the industry.

It won’t exactly be a free ride for employers though, who will be required to stump up a lot more money than they otherwise would have. For one, there will be a requirement to pay the seasonal workers a living wage – which could have a significant impact on setting the base rate pay in an industry notorious for talking big about the money workers can make, and then not delivering. Employers will also have to cover the costs of managed isolation, and pay 30 hours a week worth of wages while the worker is in managed isolation.

The government is also making moves to make the hard, physical jobs more attractive to locals. As One News reports, the Ministry for Social Development will also be offering cash payments for New Zealanders who go into seasonal jobs, with milestone bonuses for sticking it out in longer contracts. Payments can also be arranged for “transport costs, clothing requirements, training for the job, and pastoral care.” These could go some way towards addressing why the jobs aren’t taken up by locals – they tend to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong money. As Justin Giovannetti reports, it’s all part of a massive pre-Christmas sprint the government is making, to get as much done as possible before the house breaks for summer.


Speaking of parliament, it sounded like a wild day in the house yesterday. The Māori Party’s two MPs walked out in protest at rules that didn’t guarantee them the right to speak in response to the speech from the throne, reports Radio NZ. It might have been on a procedural point, but it shows they’ve come to Wellington to fight their corner. Meanwhile, on matters of somewhat less substance, the NZ Herald reports that male MPs may no longer have to wear ties, after a request was made by Green co-leader James Shaw. Oh, and the government will probably declare a climate emergency next week.


A dwindling specialist doctor workforce is leading to fears of burnout among those still there, reports Rowan Quinn for Radio NZ. On average, public hospitals only have three quarters of the specialists that they need, which also creates longer wait times for patients. The workforce is currently ageing as well, and fewer graduates are going towards specialty work – it can take up to 12 years to train someone fully to be a specialist too, which means there’s no quick fix.


A local angle on a nationwide problem: Average rents across Carterton and South Wairarapa have hit an all-time high, reports the Times-Age. They’re also rising at a much faster rate than the Wellington region generally. It’s largely a supply and demand issue, though one property manager quoted in the story said he was deliberately being selective about who to rent to, and leaving properties empty if necessary.


A top trade negotiator has given both a reassurance and a warning for businesses looking to trade with China, reports (paywalled) Business Desk. MFAT’s Vangelis Vitalis said the relationship between the two countries is strong enough to survive friction – particularly of the diplomatic kind – but also said that businesses should be careful to keep their markets diverse. Vitalis also spoke in the story about the state of global organisations like the World Trade Organisation, reiterating the government’s commitment to them despite current challenges.


Start getting your suggestions in now for the best NZ journalism of 2020. As we do every year, we’ll be using December to highlight some of the best pieces of writing, investigative work and reporting, from a rather tumultuous year. Obviously work on Covid-19 will feature heavily, but please feel free to suggest other stuff that happened outside of that. Send your suggestions through to thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz.


A bit of housekeeping: I’ll be off on Monday and Tuesday next week, and our live updates editor Stewart Sowman-Lund will be stepping in. It’s fair to say he’s well across the news agenda, and you can expect the same top-notch informative read with your morning coffee.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Let’s get angry (Image : Tina Tiller)

Right now on The Spinoff: Jules van Costello writes about why the wine industry needs to diversify away from sauvignon blanc. Stewart Sowman-Lund gets steamed about the excess baggage fees on Jetstar. Tara Ward writes about the sudden ubiquity of vaccine hero and entertainer Dolly Parton. Anna King Shahab has some inspiration for those looking to do something a bit more interesting in the kitchen with mince. Josie Adams reviews the new documentary about Six60, and the life and times of how the band got to where they are now. And we’ve got a brand new Frame documentary about Michelle Kidd, who helps guide people through Auckland’s family violence court.


For a feature today, a curious form of investigative journalism, that I haven’t really seen before. It comes from a site called Forensic Architecture, and involves multimedia presentation of data that tells a story – frequently there’s heavy use of maps. For example, this one looks at fires that have been intentionally lit to clear West Papuan rainforest, and this one looks at incidents of police brutality during Black Lives Matter protests in the US. Through those techniques, it seems to tell a wider story in a way totally opposite to how most features work – which is honing in one a specific humanising case to make the point.


In sport, the summer of cricket is off to a dramatic start, with the news that half a dozen members of the Pakistan touring party have tested positive for Covid-19. One News reports some members of the team breached protocols on the first day of their stay in managed isolation, and as a result the group has been given a serious warning. All 53 members of the group tested negative before leaving Lahore. Meanwhile, the series against the West Indies begins tonight – for everything you need to know about the upcoming summer of cricket, I’ve got exactly the piece for you to read.


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme




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