Asia Minute: New Zealand’s Kiwifruit Worker Shortage

May 24, 2018

Kiwi vines flowering
Credit A.j.morris / Wikimedia Commons

Hawai‘i’s unemployment rate is currently at a record low: 2-percent. That makes hiring tough for certain positions—but that situation is not limited to Hawai‘i. In New Zealand, there’s an industry that has such a severe worker shortage that many are calling it a crisis. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

The kiwifruit is a familiar sight at grocery stores and fruit stands around the world. For New Zealand, it’s a leading export — one that sells a lot better than it used to under some of its older names: the “Chinese Gooseberry” or the “melonette.”

It also requires a great deal of manual labor — and that’s an issue this spring — because New Zealand has a shortage of workers in the sector of kiwifruit. Industry leaders called it a “crisis” earlier this month, saying they needed 1,200 additional people to pick and pack the fruit.

The government leaped into action: the Ministry of Social Development eased rules for overseas workers — growers say wages are higher than they used to be.

But growers also say their labor pool has shrunk — New Zealand’s unemployment rate hit a nine-year low at the end of the first quarter.

Credit André Karwath / Wikimedia Commons

Kiwifruit can be a bit finicky, it bruises, it can’t be picked in the rain, and it grows on canopy vines — making for tough picking for those who reach up and then put the fruit in bags.

Global demand for kiwifruit is growing. New Zealand is the world’s third largest producer of the fruit — trailing China and Italy.

And despite all the publicity and the government help, this week, growers said they are still short of workers – needing about 600 more.