People often use the phrase ‘win-win’. In relation to the Get Kiwis on Farm programme, it’s a triple win, not just a double.
Not only does the Federated Farmers/Ministry of Social Development venture assist the unemployed and those whose jobs have been displaced by the pandemic, and help farmers plug workforce gaps, it has also been a win for an innovative clothing company based in a small Northland town.
The new recruits to a career in agriculture get a complete set of Kaiwaka Clothing wet weather gear tailored for roles on dairy, arable or sheep and beef farms. Each kit is worth more than $1100. The employer gets a free Federated Farmers employment agreement, widely recognised as industry-best.
The government, through MSD, sponsors the programme in a post-Covid response to keep people in work and get more New Zealanders into careers in the sector that earns the lion’s share of the nation’s export dollars.
The Minister of Social Development and Employment, Hon. Carmel Sepuloni, visited the Kaiwaka plant herself earlier this year to see some of the farm worker kits being put together.
Under Feds’ first contract with MSD last year, 300 new workers took on farm employment. Some came off the unemployment benefit but most were from jobs cut by pandemic disruption, especially from tourism and hospitality, but also from roles as diverse as banking, gym personal trainers, diesel mechanics, a top level rugby player and a former glowworm cave guide.
Now a second contract has been signed with MSD, providing for another 225 placements.
Feedback to date on the quality of the Kaiwaka Clothing kits from the new farm workers and the Federated Farmer members who employed them has been universally positive. Hardly surprising because the firm in Kaiwaka (pop. 2139, and located about midway between Auckland and Whangarei) has specialised in making wet weather gear – in particular for dairy farms – for more than 45 years.
According to Managing Director Monty Stewart, the third generation of his family to work in the firm, Kaiwaka’s origins go back to a venture making and mending canvas covers for horses and other applications, repairing saddles and producing other leatherwork. The saddlery had a few sewing machines and other bits of equipment and operated from a basement in Dargaville. Later, the business moved to Kaiwaka and became The Kaiwaka Saddlery.
One of New Zealand’s dairy companies asked the Kaiwaka venture to make them some coats. It was immediately a good fit; Monty’s great grandfather had been a dairy farmer in Kaiwaka.
“We first made raincoats from PVC, but it evolved from their into different coats and garments from a variety of fabrics.
“Right from the start we worked with farmers closely to find out what they wanted because we were farmers ourselves in those early days.”
The clothing manufacturing side of the business split from the saddlery in the early 2000s, and now is just one of two companies left in New Zealand that specialises in outdoors wet weather gear (Levin’s Swazi is the other). The staff now numbers 45, 10 of them employed in Christchurch as demand continues to pick up.
They export to the UK, Europe and the USA, and even to dairy farm operations in Japan and South Korea.
Most fabrics are sourced from Europe or Taiwan, and in recent years Kaiwaka has designed its own technical fabrics and commissioned overseas specialists to manufacture them, with “end to end security” to protect the IP, Monty says.
“We’ve got a long history of finding the right fabrics for the right task.”
One point of difference that has helped Kaiwaka earn respect and follow-up orders is that they’ll repair at no charge anything that goes wrong with their garments – no matter how old.
“Some of our older garments come back as old as 15 years, and still used every day on the farm.
“It’s good for customers, but at the same time we’ve learned a lot from the practice…where the garments are wearing. We’ve altered designs to extend the life of the garments.”
Monty said he was really pleased with the Get Kiwis on Farm programme, and to be associated with an organisation like Federated Farmers, “which has such a strong brand in New Zealand”. The first contract came just as the nation went into pandemic lockdown.
“We were wondeirng, as many were, what was going to happen. It’s kept three or four of our people busy for the last 12 months.”
Feds Sales and Marketing GM Tania Thomas is also delighted. “Kaiwaka Clothing was just the ideal brand fit. We’ve got an issue attracting people to farming, so having the right gear gets workers off to the best start. It’s like skiing, if you haven’t got the right gear, you’ll be miserable.”
- Federated Farmers members interested in taking on a staff member, and prospective employees interested in a career in agriculture, should go to getkiwisonfarm.nz making use of the Get Kiwis on Farm deal, should log on to the Feds’ website.
- The new employee must have either been displaced from employment by COVID-19 or be on the unemployment benefit (other circumstances may be considered by MSD on a case by case basis). The employment contract must provide for at least an average of 30 hours per week or permanent full-time work or fixed term work for 182 days or more.