Not paid to think?

January 6, 2020

When I read opinion pieces like this I wonder if the writer is paid to think:

. . .We get today off simply because it is “the day after New Year’s Day”. At least they could make up a name for “the day after Christmas Day”, aka Boxing Day. Don’t stop there. Why not the day before, as well?

Of course, some businesses will complain because money. Cry me a river. Public holidays are universally loved and drive spending in hospitality, tourism and in the regions. More importantly, they’re a day free (or well paid) of work. 

Public holidays might drive some spending in hospitality, tourism and the regions but not always.

We drove from Wanaka to Otahuti and back last Thursday, the second of the New Year public holidays.

We planned to stop for coffee at Five Rivers. The cafe was closed.

We were going to have lunch in Winton. Everything was closed.

We headed north to Lumsden. One cafe was closed, one had queues out the door and the third had a single worker who told us nothing on the lunch menu was available because she couldn’t cook and serve.

Why weren’t more staff on and more cafes open on a public holiday when there were so many travellers? Almost certainly because the extra costs of wages for people who work on a public holiday aren’t covered by the income.

Only sycophantic corporate slaves would argue against days off.

People who have to fund the extra costs of running essential businesses and services on public holidays would also argue against more days off.

This includes hospitals and other health providers, public transport, and rest homes. Then there’s providers of other businesses and services who have to be on call including medical and veterinary clinics and some trades and there’s 24 hour seven day a week businesses that can’t shut down for a holiday, like farms.

New Zealand has a measly 11 public holidays a year. If we were to live in Colombia or Iran, we would have 27! Luxembourg has 11, but also paid special leave for anniversaries, weddings or moving house. Another few days won’t sink the banks. . . 

We have 11 public holidays and four weeks annual leave – that’s five and 1/5 working weeks of paid time off.

A business with 10 workers is effectively paying someone to not work every week of the year.

And a business that is closed is making no money while still incurring fixed costs – mortgage, rates, insurance.

I once made the mistake of quipping to my boss I wasn’t paid to think.

He didn’t see the joke and made it very clear I was.

When I first read the piece on more days off I wondered if the writer had his tongue in his cheek. I don’t think he did and if he’s being paid to think he’s short-changing his employer.


Rural round-up

December 19, 2019

The good, the bad, and the ugly – 2019 in review:

As we approach another year’s end we again highlight our annual review of 2019 in the primary sector as seen by Rural News’ editorial team.

THE GOOD

Good messaging award: Dairy Women’s Network’s new chief executive Jules Benton for her clear, confident and articulate communication of the network’s aims and aspirations, but in a real and down-to-earth manner.

Celebrating success: A lot of excellent events and conferences this year with a focus on celebrating the success of old and young people. The Massey Ag students’ dinner is a great example of this where some very smart future leaders come to the fore. The same for the Ahuwhenua Awards where Maori agri success is also celebrated in style. Feds, HortNZ and the dairy industry and others all did their bit to show NZ that the ag sector is well placed for the future.  . .

Phosphate vital, industry says – Brent Melville:

With the recent spotlight on importation of phosphate sourced in the Western Sahara into New Zealand, Brent Melville takes a closer look at the phosphate issue and why we rely on it for our food production.

Blocking  the importation of phosphate into New Zealand could have a $10 billion knock-on effect into the country’s food production and export sector, the fertiliser industry says.

The industry, dominated by the farmer co-operative duopoly of Ravensdown and Ballance Agri-Nutrients, said without access to phosphate rock, rural production would fall by “at least” 50%.

Phosphate rock is the key ingredient in the country’s production of superphosphate, used primarily as a nutrient by sheep and beef and dairy farmers to boost phosphorus and sulphur levels in the soil. . . 

Land champion: it’s hard to find time to retire – Annette Scott:

Federated Farmers high country champion Bob Douglas has contributed to the smooth running of South Island high country farming businesses for 25 years but next year his visits to the back of beyond will be as a tourist. He talked to Annette Scott about his high country office.

Endless dedication to Federated Farmers high country business will come to an end for Bob Douglas in the next few weeks.

By the end of January the South Canterbury Feds stalwart will be waking each morning to a new life.

“And it will be one that will now mean when I go to the high country it will be as a tourist,” Bob said. . . 

Migrant workers worth the effort :

Waikato farmer and Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis says employing migrant workers isn’t always easy but is worth the investment.

Experience has shown me what works best. I could talk about this for hours but I will summarise some of the lessons here.

Employing migrants is not the cheap option for New Zealand dairy farmers. In fact, generally, it will cost you more but it is worth it in the long run.

Firstly, you might need some professional help dealing with Immigration NZ once you’ve found a migrant worker to employ. That will generally cost you $1600-$2000. Visa fees cost about $500 . . 

Routine border checks detect unwanted fruit disease:

Biosecurity New Zealand has suspended fresh melon imports from Queensland following a border detection of an unwanted fruit disease.

Biosecurity New Zealand detected cucumber green mottle mosaic virus (CGMMV) following routine border testing on Friday of a consignment of watermelons from Queensland Australia, says Peter Thomson, Biosecurity New Zealand’s plants and pathways director.

CGMMV does not pose a risk to human health. It affects cucurbit fruit, including watermelon, cucumber, honeydew melon, rock melon, scallopini, zucchini, and pumpkin. . . 

EPA’s Annual Report on aerial use of 1080 released:

The 2018 report on the aerial use of 1080 for pest control provides greater detail than previous years, giving more information on operations and research.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Annual Report on the aerial use of 1080 during 2018 shows a near halving of activity compared with the previous year, in terms of both the number of operations and total area treated.

There were 29 operations covering 441,000 hectares of land, compared with 50 operations across 877,000 hectares in 2017. This was due to the Department of Conservation (DOC) using less 1080, as there were no mast events in New Zealand’s forests. Heavy seed fall seasons (known as masts) drive rat populations up, threatening native species. . . 


$484k per job yet there’s a worker shortage

December 9, 2019

The Provincial Growth Fund gets a lot of publicity but the results are a long way from matching the rhetoric:

An answer to a written question from National Regional Development spokesperson Chris Bishop reveals 1922 people are employed by PGF projects – and of that, just 616 are full-time jobs.

So far, $297.4 million has been spent so far on PGF projects. That’s $484,000 per full-time job, excluding those part-time jobs.

Jones insists infrastructure projects like roads and rail will take years to build, however in the long-term they’ll create jobs and further investment and increase confidence in the regions. . . 

Roads? We’re paying higher fuel taxes but that money is going on public transport in Auckland not much-needed upgrades to roads in the provinces.

And the bus and rail not roads policy is costing jobs as businesses finishing roading  projects have no more work ahead of them.

Rail? That’s a very limited option that doesn’t go very far from routes taken by State Highway 1.

While politicians squabble over whether enough jobs are being created in the regions, the PGF is managing to create well-paid jobs here in Wellington.

The unit in charge of the fund’s doubled in size over the past year. There are now 116 employees. And 71 of them earn a salary of more than $100,000.

That’s around one job in Wellington for fewer than 20, full and part time in the provinces.

David Farrar calls the number of jobs created pitiful:

By comparison in 2016/17 there were 137,000 new jobs created which was 66 new jobs every working hour.

So Shane Jones has spent $300 million over two years and created what was basically one day of job growth under National!

New and growing businesses creating more jobs ought to be applauded, but in some areas the problem isn’t no jobs, it’s a shortage of workers for the jobs in already established businesses.

Employers in dairying, horticulture and hospitality are struggling to find staff willing and able to fill their vacancies.

The provinces would get more value from initiatives that would provide employable workers than they’re getting from the money scattered through the PGF.


3/5s of not very much

September 23, 2019

Steven Joyce gives the government some much-needed advice:

It was confirmed this week that New Zealand is now running at little more than half speed.

From growing at rates of 3½ to 4 per cent three years ago our economy at the end of June was only 2.1 per cent larger than it was the previous June.

That’s a problem firstly because our population is growing at about 1.6 per cent a year, so if our economy grows at 2 per cent then the amount of additional wellbeing per person (to coin a phrase) is three fifths of not very much.

Not very much is far less than we need for economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing.

The second problem is that our terms of trade (the prices of our exports versus our imports) are still very strong so we should still be cranking along. It’s a problem if we are slowing down when the world really wants to buy what we are selling. What happens if the world actually falls out of bed?

What happens is recession and maybe even depression.

The government has been quick to blame the world economy for our lower growth rate this week, but our terms of trade put the lie to that.

The third problem is that there is no sign of anything on the horizon that will lead to much of an upturn, and in fact all the signs are that we are going to slow further. Our businesses are in a funk because of what is known as regulatory overhang. In short, they are too fearful to invest because the government is making lots of rule changes that could mean they don’t get much of a return for the risk they take.

It’s not just farmers, other businesses are too scared to invest.

The government for its part seems inclined to shrug its shoulders and say “nothing to see here”. They observe we are still growing (slightly) faster than Australia so what’s the problem? That story is likely to change in the next six months as Australia’s tax cuts come through and their housing market picks up. Anyway weren’t we trying to grow a lot faster than Australia so we could close the income gap with our cousins across the Tasman – what happened to that ambition?

This government has no ambition for growth, only for regulate, tax and spend.

The fourth problem is that lower growth means less to go around. If we were still growing as fast as we were then in real terms our economy would be around $5 billion bigger this year than it is. That means more money for higher pay and more jobs, and of course about 30 per cent of it goes into the government coffers – which would pay for a lot more cancer drugs, teachers or electric vehicle subsidies.

How hard is it to join the dots between higher growth and more for essential services and infrastructure?

So what to do? Well if I could offer some gratuitous advice to the Finance Minister I think he should be working on baking a bigger cake, and I think the recipe is pretty straightforward. Its time to rein in some of his ministerial colleagues who are wreaking havoc with business confidence.

For example he should suggest the Minister of Immigration sort out his portfolio so that horticulturists can find seasonal workers and the international education sector can get up off its knees. He should tell the Minister for the Environment to come up with a more reasonable plan for water quality improvements and methane emissions reductions so farmers step back from the cliff edge, and the Minister of Education to stop stuffing about with the apprenticeship system.

He should encourage the Reserve Bank Governor to be less heroic on bank capital requirements, persuade his colleagues to do a backtrack on gas exploration now it is proven the ban is simply value destroying and does nothing for climate change, overrule the Greens to permit some gold mining, and stop taxing tourists more so the tourism sector starts growing again. He should cancel the return to industry-wide pay bargaining given that NZ First are never going to vote for it anyway, tell the Transport Minister to get on with building at least some of the stalled roading projects, particularly given that light rail is years away, and reverse at least one of the petrol tax increases.

Then he could watch the economy recover and start thinking about how he’s going to allocate the increased government revenues. And New Zealand will be in much better shape if the world economy does get worse. . .

He won’t of course and nor will he see that it’s the poor and the struggling middle that will be hurt the hardest by policies which hamper growth.


More immigration isn’t what they campaigned on

September 18, 2019

The government has announced changes to immigration policy with a streamlined temporary work visa.

It’s been greeted positively by Federated Farmers:

“Our message that workforce and related problems experienced by the big cities are not necessarily those experienced in the provinces has  been taken on board – we congratulate the government,” Feds employment spokesperson Chris Lewis says.

“The changes will help ensure farmers and others can more easily employ migrants when they need them, and when the options for taking on and training suitable New Zealanders are exhausted.”

By ditching the ANZSCO skill level classifications, there is much greater scope for a migrant worker to achieve career progression on our farms.

“The changes incentivise farmers to invest in training and supporting migrant employees because there’s a greater chance of keeping them than currently exists.

It’s such a waste of time and effort to train people only to have them forced to leave the country when their visas run out.

“We also acknowledge the government for its compassionate and pragmatic approach in reinstating the family entitlement for lower skilled visa holders.  The migrant worker’s children can be educated here, and their partner can get an open work visa,” Lewis said.

“It’s a positive for rural communities to have settled and content families, not just single men who may well be sending all their money home to their family.”

It’s far better to have families together here, participating in the community, than to separate them with the worker isolated and sending money home.

The government has indicated the dairy industry is a likely early target group for one of the new sector agreements, containing specific terms and conditions for recruiting foreign workers.

“Federated Farmers looks forward to working with other Team Ag  partners and the government to help get this sector agreement right,” Lewis said.

DairyNZ and the tourism industry are among others who are pleased with the changes and I agree with them.

Unemployment levels are low throughout New Zealand and out of the main centres are down to the unemployable. It is at least difficult, and often impossible, to get locals who are capable of working on farms, orchards, hospitality and tourism in the regions.

But what do all the people who voted for the governing parties, Labour NZ First and the Green Party think?

All three parties criticised immigration levels when they were in opposition and campaigned on cutting it back.

We can be grateful that now the anti-immigration rhetoric has met the reality of worker shortages it’s the voters who believed the talk who are disappointed but businesses will find it easier to get the staff they need.


Voluntary bonding much better than free fees

August 26, 2019

A record number of mental health nurses have joined the voluntary bonding scheme:

The government’s Voluntary Bonding Scheme gives health professionals the incentive to fill gaps in hard-to-staff professions and in communities where they are needed.

This year overall, 357 people were accepted into the scheme, similar to last year.

However, a record 148 mental health nurses were accepted, up 11 percent on last year.

That included 24 from Canterbury District Health Board, 19 from Waitematā DHB and 18 from Counties Manukau DHB. . . 

The scheme was launched in 2009. It offers bonded after-tax payments to doctors, midwives, nurses, medical physicists, radiation therapists, sonographers and dentists. . . 

This was a National government scheme and it’s a far better one than Labour’s free-fees for all first year students.

The former is targeted, the latter is not. The former is for graduates, people who have successfully completed their studies, the latter is for first years who may or may not pass and if they do may or may not continue studying.

The voluntary bonding  scheme makes it more attractive for people to take up work in hard-to-staff professions, communities and/or specialties.

It makes it less difficult for employers looking for those skilled people in those places and pays more to those who take up the jobs as either top-up income or off-setting their student loans off their student loans.

It also helps retain newly graduated professionals in New Zealand.

That’s good for employers, the people who need the services the professionals provide, and the country.

Contrast that with the fee-free policy which helps students, only some of whom need it, at considerable cost to the country.


Regions lose with central control

August 2, 2019

The government is centralising vocational education, merging 16 technology institutes and polytechnics into one:

Former Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce warns of the risks in this move:

. .  .Leaving aside the issue of transferring the control of hundreds and hundreds of millions of assets out of regional New Zealand to Wellington, there are huge risks in the proposal. Across the Tasman, New South Wales has just done something similar, merging its 16-odd TAFEs (polytechs) into one NSW-wide TAFE, and it is a cautionary tale. The merged entity lost $30 million in its first year, blowing out to $240m in its second. It’s now in the process of further reform.

Yes, many New Zealand polytechnics are currently struggling, but that’s not unique to this country. When employment is high, vocationally-minded people tend to get into work ahead of going to polytech, and roll numbers drop. It’s been made worse here by the sudden squeeze on international enrolments caused by government immigration policy which is contributing to a perfect storm of red ink.

Interestingly however, well-run polytechnics like SIT in Southland, Otago, and the Eastern Institute of Technology in the North Island, have continued to perform and make surpluses. A few board overhauls and the odd regional merger, plus a bit more tuition funding, would do wonders for the others and retain their local focus – and be much less risky.

The government’s prescription is radical surgery when much less drastic medicine could solve the problems at a much lower cost in both money and jobs:

The Government’s polytechnic and industry announcement today will cost thousands of jobs and may be the death knell for some polytechnics, National’s spokesperson for Tertiary Education Dr Shane Reti says.

“Moving apprentices back to polytechnics and creating one mega polytechnic will cost at least 1300 jobs in industry and probably as much again in polytechnics.

“Employers are telling us they will cease to employ apprentices next year if apprentices go back to polytechnics. This is a big step backwards especially when our construction sector is crying out for apprentices.

“The Government has brutally dismissed the concerns of industry and businesses who raised serious issues with polytechnic training. Industry understands the needs of industry best and who will be the best fit for them, but Mr Hipkins is blatantly ignoring them.

“Now the Minister is turning his axe to polytechnics. Under these reforms well performing polytechnics from the Southern Institute of Technology to Otago Polytechnic will lose the very essence of their successful and innovative local decision making.

“The reforms dissolve polytechnics into hollow and meaningless ‘legacy’ polytechnics. This ideology will destroy tradition, decimate organisational knowledge and the final indignity will be the mega polytechnic spending community gifted cash and assets.

“This is devastating for polytechnics and their staff and students.

“Every aspect of the vocational education sector is under attack. Apprentices are being sent back to polytechnics, polytechnics are being amalgamated into legacy campuses, jobs are being lost, cash and community assets will be ring-fenced and regional autonomy is being stripped away.

“These reforms will be disastrous for regional education and apprenticeships. Mr Hipkins is pushing ahead with ideology over what is best for students and regional New Zealand.

“National will empower the regions to make decisions around what they teach, where they teach and how they teach. We will return polytechnic assets taken by Labour and give them back to communities. We will return apprentices to industry.

“National supports apprentices and regional polytechnics and we will fight for their voice and autonomy in these ideological educational reforms.”

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said the city will fight to save The Southern Institute of Technology:

Invercargill leaders have vowed to fight a Government decision to centralise the Southern Institute of Technology [SIT] with 15 other polytechnics and training institutes nationwide.

Mayor Tim Shadbolt said he was in “absolute disbelief they could do such a terrible thing to our city” and said legal action would be taken against the decision.

“They have really ripped the heart out of Invercargill with this announcement.”

The proposal also threatens the future of Telford Farm Training Institute:

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker said the announcement was incredibly disappointing and raised uncertainty for Telford’s future.

“Today’s announcement of the Government’s reform of vocational education through the centralisation of polytechs is another blow to rural and regional New Zealand. 

“It is the people in regions who know the needs of their people best, not a long list of public servants in Wellington.”

Community assets would be taken away, decision-making powers would be lost and as a result, Telford would be disadvantaged, he said.

“Telford’s long-term proposal was turned down because of this reform which will now cause further damage to Clutha-Southland and its workforce.”

“This creates further uncertainty for staff and students at Telford who have already been through enough.” . . 

Successful organisations like SIT and Otago Polytech could have been used as a model for other institutions that were floundering.

Instead the successful are being sacrificed because of others’ failures and the regions lose autonomy to central control.


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