Nurseryman credits island staff

Nurseryman credits island staff-300FAIR EXCHANGE: Women from Kiribati working at McGrath Nurseries as part of the seasonal employment programme include, from left, Reneti Nauma, Borama Tokaniman and Taatu Konerio.

Waikato nurseryman Andy McGrath credits seasonal workers with nearly doubling his business in the past few years.

The owner of McGrath Nurseries near Cambridge is in the middle of grafting season, preparing stock to replenish orchards around New Zealand. It is literally hard graft and among his best workers are 10 women from Kiribati.

The women are in the Waikato under the State Sector Partnership Development Fund, with the Department of Labour earmarking $550,000 over two years to bring countries like Kiribati into the Regional Season Employment Scheme (RSE).

There are 20 Kiribati workers employed in the Waikato under SPP, working for Mr McGrath and kiwifruit growers Seeka.

"You always hear they're here taking Kiwis' jobs but we can't get Kiwis to do these jobs."

It is the second season the women have worked for Mr McGrath. His nursery grew to produce 450,000 trees a year, although he says the numbers have been trimmed back as the recession took its toll.

"The high New Zealand dollar is hurting growers and it hurts us in return. Orchardists don't have the money to reinvest," he said.

The average yearly wage on Kiribati is about NZ$3900. The women in his nursery make the minimum New Zealand wage, plus bonuses. They pay their airfare one way and the company pays for the other.

"It's a partnership and it's incredible to see what they get out of it," said Mr McGrath, who also chairs the regional labour governance group that oversees the number of RSE workers in the region.

Borama Tokaniman said she was in New Zealand to raise the money for her sister Mwaniana to go to school. "My father and mother are not working so it helps her," she said.

Mareta Tekieru said she left her husband at home to save for them to build their own house. "It's for our future."

Mr McGrath said the work was more suited to women because they were shorter and could cope with bending to graft the trees.

"The opportunity for women to become employed in Kiribati is much less," Mr McGrath said. "Many of them were very good at weaving so their fingers work well grafting the trees, it's the hand-eye co-ordination," he said.

His company is responsible for the workers' pastoral care while they are in New Zealand and is refurbishing a house to accommodate the workers on site.


 

NICOLA BOYES

Last updated 14:03 25/01/2011

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