Seasonal skill shortage big issue for tulip farm

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Immigration issue . . . Discussing the ins and outs of tulip farming at a meeting at an Edendale farm last Friday are (from left) Triflor tulip farm manager Rudi Verplancke, Invercargill National MP Sarah Dowie and National Party immigration spokesman Simon Bridges. PHOTO: ELLA STOKES

Getting skilled workers from overseas is proving difficult, Triflor tulip farm manager Rudi Verplancke says.

Speaking to National Party immigration spokesman (now party leader) Simon Bridges last Friday at the Edendale tulip farm, Mr Verplancke said the tulip industry had a problem with finding skilled workers locally for tulip farming.

Work associated with tulip growing and farming was seasonal which made it difficult to attract Kiwi workers with the skills needed. This was resulting in growers bringing over Dutch workers in their off season.

Triflor is a 100ha tulip farm which grows and processes about 50 million bulbs a year. During its peak season it has up to 20 workers from overseas.

“Every year it gets harder and harder to get people here as we have to prove that no Kiwi can fill the role . . . getting skilled people is the issue,” Mr Verplancke said.

Ninety-eight percent of the world’s tulips come from the Netherlands, “therefore that is where we are able to get all of our skilled workers from and they can also train New Zealanders”, he said.

Mr Verplancke said he would like to see it made easier to get skilled workers to come to New Zealand, especially for tulip farmers who had to go through the same process every year.

Tulip farmers at the gathering collectively agreed finding skilled labour was one of their biggest problems.

Mr Bridges said he agreed with farmers and that the new government needed to “revisit their pre-election policy and let more people in”.

“Getting outside workers is important, if they [growers] can’t get more skilled workers, businesses go backwards and can’t grow, which has a tumble effect.”

Invercargill’s Labour MP Liz Craig said it was disappointing to see Mr Bridges blaming Southland’s lack of skilled workers on Labour’s pre-election policy.

“Rather, Labour’s pre-election policy . . . emphasised regional development, and in particular the need for skills shortage lists unique to each region. Thus, if there was a genuine shortage of a particular type of skilled workers in Southland, these could be added to a regional skills shortage list without reference to supply around the country.”

Dr Craig said the Ministry of Immigration had instructed officials to work on a plan for implementing the regional skills shortage list policy as a top priority.