Health and safety practices and employment issues were at the forefront when Hon Iain Lees-Galloway, Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Immigration and ACC, visited the winery last week.
Saint Clair Family Estate was selected as one of a handful of businesses the minister was to visit during his trip to Marlborough, after it was identified by WorkSafe NZ as having high workplace safety standards.
Hosted by operations manager Glen Herkt, winemaker Stewart Maclennan, health and safety coordinator Kerrie Dick and HR manager Becky Sangster, Mr Lees-Galloway toured the winery for some insight into the winemaking process, as well as the health, safety, and employment issues faced by the industry.
A shortage of skilled and experienced New Zealand cellar hands was identified during the tour as a problem faced by many Marlborough wineries.
Each year, Saint Clair employs cellar hands to work at the winery during harvest, utilising the skills they have learned doing vintages across the world.
“It’s about having skilled people who are experienced in wineries and wine making.”
“We would love those people to be Kiwis but the challenge is if you work in the wine industry, you already work in a winery,” winemaker Stew said.
“I think if Kiwis understood that it could be a seasonal type of work, there would be more interest; people from overseas travel the world doing it, it’s a great way to see the world.”
Mr Lees-Galloway said the Government was currently working to identify skill shortages across the regions of New Zealand, and to utilise those shortages to get more young people working.
“We have 70,000 young people that are not working or training, we have got to do something about that; there’s got to be a way of using those gaps [in the workforce],” he said.
While immigration would still be a part of that process, the Government would be looking at ways of using New Zealanders to fill those gaps, he added.
“That’s pretty high on the agenda, to start making moves in that direction … I think it would be really really helpful in this region,” Mr Less-Galloway said.
“The perception is that [cellar work] is just seasonal work, that it’s not paid very well, that there’s no career in it; whereas there is a career in it, and travel makes it a lot more interesting.”
In terms of Health and Safety, Saint Clair continued to tick the boxes in terms of the processes in place to reduce potential hazards.
Kerrie said health and safety was not only important to the business because of the high rate of workplace deaths in New Zealand, but also because of the nature of the team.
“Neal [Ibbotson] (Saint Clair Managing Director) has a philosophy; ‘HDWDIB: How Do We Do It Better’, and we’re constantly asking that question. I feel that everyone gets to that acceptable level where the line is, where you pass audits and that sort of thing, but I feel that we are better than that, we want to do more than just the minimum,” she said.