Not every 81-year-old puts down the remote, gets off the couch and travels 21km out of town to go and help the kiwifruit’s largest post-harvest operation in a labour crisis.
But this is exactly what Tauranga man Darcy Retter did when he saw his old boss, Apata’s managing director Stuart Weston, on the telly crying out for workers for the kiwifruit harvest season.
When the Ministry of Social Development declared a seasonal labour shortage for Bay of Plenty kiwifruit industry on May 7, Stuart appeared on television news saying if had another 70 people turn up for work that day he’d have employed them.
“I’d heard Stuart Weston on the TV and radio; that they were desperately short of staff,” says Darcy.
“I’d finished work there about five years ago, after doing 14 seasons with Apata.
“So I thought: ‘Oh well, I’m doing nothing sitting at home so I may just as well come back’.
“So I came out and got an application form – and here I am,” says retired youth social worker of 33.5 years.
But why? “Well, I have got a lower back problem – and if I don’t keep active I put up with a lot of back pain. So while I’m active, I’m good – so I’ve come to work.”
He used to be stacking “but now I’m on packing – and the back is holding up fine”.
Darcy says he’s always felt like part of the Apata team in his years there, so was keen to come back to familiar faces. “I enjoy the company,” says Darcy, who sits at picnic table with young Polynesian workers – at least half his age – talking and laughing loudly over their smoko break.
“And I’ve got one gentleman working alongside me – he travels from Hamilton every day. That’s 1.25hour drive each way.”
“I live in Tauranga – it’s only 21km here and 21km home.”
Apata Group Ltd’s brand and procurement manager David Freeman says by coming back to help out, Darcy is Apata’s local celebrity at the moment. “He’s a lovely fella and he’s just wanted to do his bit.”
David says Darcy is of many in the BOP community supporting Apata by coming out of the woodwork to help with this year’s harvest.
“Another man called Thomas; I hadn’t seen him in a few years. The day after Stuart was on telly, he turned up and said: ‘Hey, I’m here to work”. I said: ‘Great park your car there and go talk to the girls in HR’.”
“He walked in, 10 minutes later I saw him walking down towards the packhouse and he’s been here ever since.
“It was just really neat to see the local community coming to support us.”