HAVING just taken delivery of a brand-new, rental forklift, Riverlock operations manager Steven Lambert says he’s looking forward to the new kiwifruit packing season. Photo Sven Carlsson OB4646-01

A TIGHTER ship at Riverlock will lead to increased efficiency, operations manager Steven “Murdoch” Lambert says.

“This year we’ll run one 12-hour shift, instead of two nine-hour shifts,” he said.

Mr Lambert said many workers who were eager to make the best of the short kiwifruit packing season had overestimated their capacity for work.

“They sign up for a day shift with OPAC or EastPack, then the night shift with us,” he said.

As reality set in, Riverlock had suffered from workers being unfocused, falling sick or not turning up at all.

“This has been the reality of them trying to work for more than one outfit,” Mr Lambert said.

“By moving to one shift, it becomes easier for us to find the right staffing levels.”

He said it was estimated that the one-shift operation would yield the same amount of machine hours per 24-hour period as the previous system had.

“We’ll get 11 hours of packing time,” Mr Lambert said.

“Running a night shift has turned out to be false economy.”

Mr Lambert said there would be a shortage of kiwifruit staff in Opotiki this season, which was expected to begin during the second week of March.

“We will start testing in the next week or two, dry matter to see how ripe the fruit is, and this will give us a start date.”

The volume of fruit processed at Riverlock will be the same as last year.

He said capable forklift drivers and quality control staff were the most challenging roles to fill.

“A person can obtain an OSH forklift certificate in one day, but that doesn’t mean they can drive a forklift,” Mr Lambert said.

“I test them in the shed and decide which ones can be employed.”

Being sensible and spatially aware were crucial requirements for a forklift operator.

Mr Lambert said good quality control staff, inspectors of fruit, were also rare.

“They do modules through Zespri, it’s a six-month education, then they get accredited during the season,” Mr Lambert said.

This season Riverlock will employ 85 staff, down from the double-shift arrangement that would have required 160 people.

Of the 85 people, 20 per cent will be regular, returning Opotiki employees.

“They form a backbone, as we know their capability,” Mr Lambert said.

Last year, wet weather had negatively affected low-lying orchards.

This year’s packing season is expected to go to the middle of June.

“The hot weather should be good for increasing the dry matter and it could move the start time forward,” Mr Lambert said.

“It’s another season to look forward to, and as long as we have a good team there should be no major problems.”