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Seasonal worker wellbeing

New Zealand's viticulture and horticulture industries rely on skilled contractors. Marlborough head-quartered labour supply and management agency, Hortus, plays a big part in helping meet these needs.

Founded in 2008, today Hortus employs approximately 1,000 Pacific migrants per year as part of the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme. In the process, Hortus Director, Aaron Jay, and his team are setting the bar high for how these seasonal workers are looked after while they work in our country.

In Blenheim that care includes housing RSE workers in Hortus’ purpose-built accommodation for up to 461 people. There are plans to build further accommodation facilities at the company’s Hawke’s Bay and Bay of Plenty divisions too.

Hortus provides labour to viticulture and horticulture clients across the Marlborough region, with clients as diverse as Pinoli Pine Nuts and medicinal cannabis grower Puro, along with a variety of fruit orchards. However, the bulk of Hortus’ work is with Marlborough’s world-renowned wine industry, providing in-the-field resources for big names such as Delegat, Pernod Ricard, Wither Hills, and Cloudy Bay.

viticulture and horticulture workers

A resilient workforce 

“We take the role of being an employer very seriously,” says Aaron. “These workers are our responsibility from the moment they get off the plane from their sending nation. For the entirety of their visa, [we’re responsible for] the care and wellbeing of these individuals.”

“We've got a rule at Hortus that we never ask anyone to do anything we're not prepared to do ourselves. And we'll never ask anyone to stay somewhere we wouldn’t be prepared to stay ourselves.”

“Something we’ve learnt from the RSE [workers] is that they’re very resilient, resourceful, entrepreneurial, and innovative. It's because of this that Hortus has a labour force that turns up every day and does the mahi in the field.

I think it's fair to say New Zealand’s horticulture and viticulture industries would be in a pickle without them.” Aaron concludes. 

Insurance broker delivers 'peace of mind' 

As the owner-operator of a rapidly growing business, Aaron says “you find out really quickly that you don't know what you don't know, and can't do it all.” As a result, he says he is a firm believer in having industry experts in his corner.

And of course, this extends to Hortus’ insurance needs.

While human error and weather are the most common risks for Hortus, neither are easy to control. So, Aaron says they focus on what they can control, putting best-practice systems in place for all staff, especially where machinery, accommodation, vehicles, and training are concerned.

Most recently, Crombie Lockwood Marlborough Branch Director, Laura Kidd, and Group Broking Manager, Rebecca Brooke-Taylor, were able to renegotiate vehicle insurance for Hortus’ RSE workers when Covid-related border closures kept them in New Zealand longer than expected.

Without the commercial vehicle insurance in place, the workers wouldn’t have been able to drive Hortus vans: a crucial part of their job.

“We believe in the analogy of having the ambulance at the top of the hill, as opposed to the bottom,” Aaron continues. “The insurance broker sits at the top of the hill and it’s companies like Crombie Lockwood that give us peace of mind to continue to grow our business and take a bit more risk.”

Aaron Jay Hortus Director

“Hortus is an integral Marlborough company because we’ve got the reliability of a labour force that turns up every day and does the mahi... I think it’s fair to say the industry would be in a pickle without them.”

Aaron Jay, Hortus Director

Published November 2022

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