15 Oct 2017

Wine workforce will need to grow by a quarter

12:07 pm on 15 October 2017

Wine growers in Marlborough say their workforce will have to increase by 24 percent in the next three years to support projected growth in the industry.

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About 75 percent of vineyard area work in Marlborough was done by workers on the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, said Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The figures are based on a 25 percent growth in vineyard plantings over the next five years.

A new report by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, commissioned by industry group Wine Marlborough, said about 5000 people were currently employed directly and indirectly in the grape growing and wine making industries.

A further 3000 were employed on a seasonal basis, including under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme.

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said the group wanted a current snapshot of the industry's contribution to the economy. It followed two previous market surveys on vineyard area growth, which were done last year, and a white paper calling for solutions to address accommodation and growth challenges.

"This is the third pillar in a set of work to ensure there are no surprises. We need a blueprint to follow to take advantages of growth," Mr Pickens said.

The recent report uses data from Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, which shows the workforce contributes $130 million in wages to the local economy each year.

A large part of the industry's success was down to overseas workers, including those employed under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, Mr Pickens said.

The scheme was set up by the government in 2007 to allow workers from a number of Pacific countries into New Zealand temporarily, to "fill gaps" in the horticulture and viticulture industries. It was initially capped at 5000, but the number allowed into New Zealand is now more than twice that.

Mr Pickens said more housing and pastoral care would be needed, especially for RSE workers. He said while the council had a role to play as a facilitator, he expected it was something that the contractors would have to take responsibility for.

"We expect the RSE contractor group to actually build purpose-built accommodation, so they are exiting residential accommodation. There's a tension point with that as well and I think in our industry we also have to be good community citizens."

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Wine growers in Marlborough say their workforce will have to increase by 24 percent in the next three years to support projected growth in the industry. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Mr Pickens said they were keeping a close eye on what changes a new government might make to rules around migrants.

New Zealand First has taken a line that New Zealanders take priority over migrants when it comes to jobs, but a party spokesman told RNZ it valued the RSE scheme. The Labour Party said in pre-election campaigning there would be no cuts to the levels of Pacific quotas and the schemes.

"Marlborough's a very small community with a big international industry. We need to bring labour into the region, whether that's Kiwis - and we always want Kiwis first - or we need to fill the worker numbers by bringing in people from overseas," Mr Pickens said.

About 75 percent of vineyard area work in Marlborough was done by RSE workers, and the industry wanted the government to continue to support that.

There were environmental challenges ahead but adequate planning would address those, Mr Pickens said.

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Mr Pickens said land was available to accommodate growth, but the industry's relationship with the community was important. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

A resource management specialist in Blenheim said the council's proposed environment plan would enhance safeguards around land and water use.

Mr Pickens said land was available to accommodate growth, but the industry's relationship with the community was important, and trying to inform the public was one of the challenges.

Marlborough mayor John Leggett said the council had put a lot of effort into planning and servicing future housing demand, including for its workforce.

He said there were presently more than 300 sections in the district. Houses were already under way on some and others were about to be built on.

Mr Leggett said there were at least four housing developments underway led by private developers, and the council had zoned land to make way for future development.

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