Vinepower & RSE
Filling the seasonal labour shortage at harvest time in Marlborough
Jono Bushell and business partner Jason Kennard run Vinepower, a viticulture contracting company based in Blenheim. The company employs workers from the Pacific and Asian regions. It’s one of the largest RSE scheme employers in Marlborough and has particularly strong ties to Vanuatu.
The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme is a New Zealand government initiative that came into effect in April 2007. The policy allows the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work when there are not enough New Zealand workers available.
The success of the RSE scheme has led to increased demand from employers. Over 10,000 employees from all over the pacific have come into New Zealand over the past year to work in vineyards and orchards all over the country.
People employed under RSE policy may stay in New Zealand for up to seven months during any 11-month period. Exceptions to this are workers from Tuvalu and Kiribati, who can stay for nine months because of the distance from New Zealand and the cost of travel.
When first instigated back in 2007, there were concerns that the workers coming in from Pacific Islands on the RSE scheme would be taking jobs from locals who needed them. Jono says that couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite the increasing numbers coming in under the RSE scheme – orchardists in some parts of NZ are still desperately short of labour.
Jono was the first vineyard contractor to become RSE accredited back in 2007. He says there was an urgent need for a reliable number of workers, especially in Marlborough, to help the industry grow. These days there is a stable and well trained workforce available for orchard work each year. In that period, the area of grapes grown in New Zealand has gone from 24,000 ha to close to 37,000 ha.
The company now has close to between 400 RSE workers each year, with a permanent workforce of 40. It is estimated that in 2017 they pruned over 8 million vines.
Vinepower works primarily with communities on Vanuatu’s Tanna Island. Jono says the money earned by those who come to work in New Zealand invariably goes back to the communities they come from to pay for education and improve living standards for their families.
As a result of the work with locals in Vanuatu, Jono and his business partner have also been able to develop community based employment on the islands – with a coconut oil business, a peanut farm and a coffee business. The mill and plantation on the islands were established by RSE workers. The businesses provide steady employment between pruning seasons in New Zealand.
In Marlborough, Vinepower has embarked on an ambitious plan to build accommodation for the more than 400 seasonal workers employed under the recognized seasonal employer scheme. The construction will include an office block and even some shops. Jono says the aim is to create a place where the communities can live together. The facility is planned on a former motel site in Blenheim and will ease the strain on housing in town.