Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Time is slipping by for the fruit industry to improve wages

The covid-19 pandemic has meant a lot of changes for New Zealand. Lockdowns, social distancing, a massive shift to working from home and the death of tourism for a start. But the sensible and necessary border closure has also completely cut off the supply of cheap, migrant labour - and business which have been effectively subsidised by it are screaming. Today, it's the fruit and vegetable industry, who warn that "time is slipping by" for their harvest:

A group of 14 growers have issued a joint warning that some fruit and vegetables could rot unharvested this summer because of a shortage of people to pick them.

This could reduce the supply of produce and push up prices.

The warning came from farmers at the front line of the looming picker shortage, such as growers of some vegetables, strawberries, stone fruit, cherries and watermelons.

Their preferred solution is of course to open the borders so they can blackbird some peons from the Pacific Islands to labour in their fields under conditions that amount to indentured servitude - exposing us all to the possibility of an outbreak in the process (because while some of these countries are covid-free, do you really trust their testing and border regimes? We don't even trust Australia at the moment). But obviously, there's another solution: improve pay and conditions so they can attract kiwi workers. And the fact that they are not willing to do this, but would rather whine and cry for a government subsidy, tells us everything we need to know.

(And yes, migrant labour is a subsidy. The fact that kiwis won't take these jobs at the pay and conditions they are offering tells us that).

In a market economy, crops rotting in the fields are a clear market message to pay your workers more. If growers choose to ignore that message, then they have no-one to blame but themselves.