Rural round-up

August 6, 2017

Rules tweak still leaves migrant dairy workers in a bind – Chris Lewis:

The Government recently relaxed the “mid-skilled” migrant salary threshold to avoid tough new restrictions down to $41,000. So why are farmers still unhappy?

They’re unhappy because in the dairy sector, salary threshold is not the problem. In submissions to the Government the dairy industry did not object to the original threshold of $49,000.

The fact is, unless the migrant worker is a farm manager or earns over $73,000, they’re deemed “low-skilled” and booted out of the country after three years. Hardly an incentive to even apply in the first place, and disruptive and expensive for the farmer, who has to look for someone else to plug the gap. . . 

Alliance targets UK food service – Tony Benny:

Alliance Group has launched a pilot programme in UK targeting high-end restaurants and hotels in a bid to generate more revenue. Tony Benny reports.

Food service is growing globally while traditional retail outlets in many markets are stagnating and marketers often talk of the need for producers to shift their focus to this growth sector. Now Alliance has established a four-person team in the UK tasked with making direct connections to top chefs and building new distribution channels.

“Historically a lot of New Zealand lamb has gone into wholesale in some form and can go through three or four sets of hands before it gets to the end customer and often the end customer doesn’t know where their lamb’s coming from,” says Alliance director of food service Graham Bougen, who heads the team in UK. . . 

Vet praises farming gorup’s reaction – Sally Rae:

The veterinarian who initially signalled the possibility of an outbreak of a bacterial disease not previously found in New Zealand says it has been an ”enormously stressful and harrowing experience” for the farmers involved.

Yesterday, Merlyn Hay addressed a meeting at Papakaio, outlining how confirmation of Mycoplasma bovis in cows on two Van Leeuwen Dairy Group properties unfolded.

Over the past few weeks, her priority focus – as the group’s key veterinarian – had been her client and their cows and she had ”nothing but admiration” for the way the group had conducted itself during the crisis, she said.

The care and concern shown to animals in their charge had been humbling and the group deserved empathy and respect. She hoped the community would support them as the crisis continued. . . 

Neighbouring properties test negative for disease – Sally Rae:

Results have confirmed nine of the farms bordering Van Leeuwen Dairy Group properties,  all  tested negative for cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

The bacterial disease had previously been confirmed on two Van Leeuwen Dairy Group farms in the Waimate district, the first time the disease had been detected in New Zealand.

In a statement last night, Ministry for Primary Industries director of response Geoff Gwyn said the results for the nine neighbouring properties was good news but further tests, over several months, on those farms would be required before they could be declared free of the disease. . . 

Urgency needed over disease tests:

The discovery of Mycoplasma bovis on two South Canterbury farms understandably has the farming community on tenterhooks.

The bacterial disease may be prevalent among cattle globally but it has never previously been detected in New Zealand.

Fortunately, it presents no food safety risk and there are no concerns about consuming milk and milk products.

But the disease has serious effects including mastitis, abortion, pneumonia and arthritis and therefore the ramifications for farmers — both financially and from an animal welfare perspective — are huge. . . 

Dairy farmers still fighting debt – Richard Rennie:

Waikato and Bay of Plenty dairy farmers face a “back to the future” slog into 2020 to get back to their 2015-16 season when dairy prices took a tumble.

The latest AgFirst financial survey for Waikato-Bay of Plenty dairy farmers was released last week.

Survey compiler Phil Journeaux said the model farm used in the budget incurred an additional $126,560 of term debt, or almost $1/kg of milksolids in 2015-16 to cover the hit the farm took when the payout slumped to $3.90/kg MS that season.

“This loan amount was almost an extra $1/kg milksolids and some debt repayment was made in 2016-17 and is budgeted again for 2017-18. . . 

Image may contain: meme, cloud, text and outdoor

I tried taking some high resolution photos of local farmland  but they all turned out really grainy.

 

 

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Jobs come, go, come

August 1, 2017

The failure of a business, like A&G Price and subsequent loss of jobs is difficult for everyone involved.

However, an appeal by Waikato Engineering Careers Association for work for the staff facing unemployment resulted in 40 job offers in 40 minutes. 

Not all are in Thames which means those taking up the offers will have to move or commute and that’s not good for the town but Work and Income are working on that too:

A task force was set up in response to the situation, community liaison adviser Joe Waterhouse said.

“The first thing we did was contact the local radio station to get information out to the workers. Two support sessions were held on Friday, with 32 workers attending the early morning one, which is fantastic, as some people are reluctant to approach Work and Income,” he said.

The sessions are to let people know what financial help and jobs are available. Workers who do not make contact with Work and Income will be approached privately so no one misses out.

The task force is led by work services manager Catherine Henderson and acting service centre manager Peter Davies, Waterhouse said.

“They are coordinating current vacancies and scrutinising jobs coming in. At 1.15pm on Friday, 23 jobs were emailed to Thames Coromandel District Council. Our community is experienced with big layoffs and closures of factories employing many workers.

“There is no shortage of jobs and we believe our help will mainly be to transition them back into the workforce.”

In most parts of New Zealand there is no shortage of jobs which is a very good reflection on the state of the economy.

The closure of a business like this that employs a large number of people or the establishment or expansion of a business involving big numbers of employees always makes headlines. Small numbers of job losses and gains don’t usually.

But jobs come, some go and others come all the time.

Increased mechanisation and technical advances which make work easier and faster can lead to job losses at particular work places and in particular industries.

But increased mechanisation and technical advances also create new jobs.

Think of the jobs that have become easier, those that have disappeared and those that have been created in the last 100 years.

The advent of the car meant far less work for farriers and saddle makers but it created jobs for the people who build, sell and service vehicles and all the bits and pieces from which they’re made.

Computers have come a long way, made a lot of jobs redundant and created many more.

Some fear that as they continue to advance they will replace a lot more jobs. But is it just wishful thinking to believe that something with the wit to equal or surpass the human brain would also have the wit to create new jobs?


Whose job is it to make jobless job-ready?

July 18, 2017

The Opposition’s anti-immigration policies are based on the view that New Zealanders should come first for jobs.

They do under current policy, if they are ready and willing to work.

But what happens when they’re not?

Whose job is it to make the jobless job-ready?

When unemployment is as low as it is (4.9% in the March quarter), too many of those without jobs don’t have what it takes to take on even low skilled or unskilled jobs.

There are plenty of jobs which don’t require specialised skills but none don’t need people with at least basic numeracy and literacy, who turn up on time ready, willing and able to work, and continue to work willingly and ably for the required number of hours.

Not all businesses have the human and financial resources to deal with people who aren’t work-ready.

But the Warehouse is giving some young unemployed people a chance:

The Warehouse’s Red Shirts programme offers unskilled 16 to 24-year-olds the training they need to get a job.

It’s a three-week unpaid programme supported by the Ministry of Social Development.

The Ministry, which chooses who will go on the programme, pays for participants’ shoes and trousers, bought at cost price from The Warehouse.

“At the end of the programme their eyes are sparkling, their posture is up, they are able to hold a conversation with you,” The Warehouse’s Shari French told Newshub.

“It’s incredible, the self-esteem and the growth we see is amazing.” . . .

The programme teaches workplace safety, customer service and confidence.

“It’s absolutely essential we give them that before they turn 20, before they go onto a benefit,” Social Development Minister Anne Tolley told Newshub.

So far 250 young people have been through the course, with 70 percent of them getting jobs within three months and 50 of them working at The Warehouse.

The programme will now be rolled out to more Warehouse stores around the country and will take in a further 1000 young people.

Few if any small to medium businesses could do this without putting too much pressure on other staff but the Warehouse is showing that some bigger business could.

It’s also a reminder that sorting out social problems isn’t only up to the government and its agencies.

But it’s not an argument against immigration when too many employers can’t find locals ready, willing and able to work.


RSE workers leave union after 4 days

July 13, 2017

Union membership is low, so too is signing up people who don’t understand what they’re doing:

Attempts to sign up migrant vineyard workers in Marlborough to a union have hit a snag, with more than 100 workers joining then abruptly cancelling their membership.

The workers, in the region on the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, signed up to the Central Amalgamated Workers Union following a meeting last Thursday.

Union co-ordinator Steve McManus said the 118 workers – a figure disputed by the company involved, who claimed it was 111 – cancelled their membership just four days later.

McManus alleged the workers were pressured to leave the union, however the head of vineyard contracting company Hortus, Aaron Jay, has rubbished the claim.

Many thought they were signing up for insurance, and once they found out what the union was, how much it would cost and what it offered they became upset, Jay said.

The Hortus boss was told about the meeting, at the company’s accommodation facility Duncannon, on Friday by worker leaders concerned about what had taken place. . .

Jay said the workers had originally been happy to join, but once they understood exactly what was being offered they told him they felt ambushed, and upset.

“Unions definitely serve a purpose, I’ve got no problems with them as long as it’s done properly. A lot of the guys didn’t necessarily understand what they were signing up to,” he said.

“We pride ourselves on our morals, our values, who we are and what we do. I’m the sole owner and director of the business, so when they’re in New Zealand I’m responsible.

“We make sure they’re happy, and if that means becoming part of a union I’ve got no problems with that.” . . .

Jay is the RSE scheme representative for Marlborough, and his company, Hortus, has frequently been held up as an example of an employer following best practice guidelines.

The RSE scheme has just passed its 10th anniversary.

It’s been a success for employers who struggle to get staff during harvest and for the workers who earn good money to take back to their home countries.

There have been a few problems with a very few employers.

But this isn’t a case of a bad employer.

Nor of an anti-union employer.

This looks like a union taking advantage of people who didn’t understand what they were doing.

 


Labour now the Sweatshop Boys

June 23, 2017

Duncan Garner has the line of the day on the AM Show – he’s calling Labour the Sweatshop Boys.

He’s referring to the party’s botched intern scheme :

There are calls for Immigration NZ to investigate a Labour-linked election campaign which used unpaid labour in the guise of an education programme.

More than 80 overseas students have been doing unpaid “drudge work”, and living in a cramped Auckland marae without a working shower, reports political blog Politik. . .

Rivals ACT called the campaign a “sweat shop filled with immigrant labour”.

“I cannot believe the Labour Party’s do as we say, not as we do attitude. This is a new low for hypocrisy, even for them,” ACT leader David Seymour said.

“Who would believe in Labour’s promised crackdown on cheap student labour when Labour are one of the worst offenders in the country?” . . .

That is hypocrisy writ large.

National Party campaign chairman Steven Joyce said Labour had to explain how it could justify “exploiting” international students for its election campaign while it was also speaking out against international education providers.

“This is truly appalling behaviour both for its lack of human decency and industrial strength hypocrisy,” Joyce said.

“If the allegations are correct, Labour has brought international students to New Zealand on false pretences, failed to look after them, and failed to meet their obligations to the students in the most basic way, while at the same time campaigning against exploitation of migrants.” . . .

Employers are very, very worried about Labour’s threatened changes to immigration.

Skills shortage in many sectors including IT, trades, farming, contracting and hospitality mean employers are already struggling to get anyone to fill positions. They’re wasting time, money and energy working their way through the process of employing immigrants.

Labour’s threatened changes would make that much, much worse.

These employers are working hard making a significant and positive economic and social contribution to New Zealand.

Labour wants to hobble them and yet has the hypocrisy to bring in people from overseas, not to work in productive businesses,  but to campaign for the party, and do it without pay.

Compounding that, the party that is supposed to stand up for workers put them up in sub-standard accommodation.

Matt McCarten did a mea culpe yesterday but the party can’t blame the mess only on him.

Newshub has obtained internal documents outlining Labour’s ambitious plans to put foreign students to work on its campaign.

The plan shows the party needed to find $270,000 in funding to pull it off and was banking on unions to fund a lot of it. . .

The budgeting was based on 100 students staying for an average of eight weeks. The cost of feeding and housing them in motorhomes was estimated at $240,000, with an operational budget of $30,000 for petrol, venues and AT HOP cards.

The documents show First and Unite unions agreed to contribute $100,000, “white collar unions” – likely the likes of the PSA – committed to $50,000, while Union Trust put up a start-up loan of $25,000.

The plan was to get E tū and “other appropriate unions” on board too.

The Council of Trade Unions was also to be involved in management of the project, and while Labour has been distancing itself from the project, the documents explicitly states: “The programme and certification is the responsibility of Labour.” . . .

Hypocrisy is bad enough, but there are also questions over which visas the students are on.

. . . We know these “fellows” are being given free accommodation in exchange for their work, so they are in breach of their visitor visa conditions, if they have visitor visas.

It is possible they have other visas, such as work visas. But it is hard to imagine they could qualify for work visas, and the hypocrisy would be great – Labour bringing in unpaid fellows on work visas, while campaigning against such work visas.

So it looks like either Labour has arranged 85 work visas for its unpaid fellows while campaigning to reduce the number of work visas for unskilled jobs or Labour has been complicit in a huge case of immigration fraud.

Even if the students are on working holiday visas, there are other questions:

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse did not know whether Immigration NZ or MBIE’s labour inspectorate was investigating the issue, but believed Labour had serious questions to answer about possible breaches.

Woodhouse said the students would be allowed to undertake the work if they were on working holiday visas, as Labour believed, but there were still questions about whether there had been breaches of employment law.

“What I am aware of is similar schemes to this have been investigated very seriously by the labour inspectorate because it is work masquerading as voluntary work, and I think that is also a question that should be asked of the Labour Party.”

Providing services for food and board counted as work under employment law, he said.

“Regardless of what visa they’re on, there are certainly questions about the nature of the work they’re doing and whether that meets the definition of employment.” . .

The Sweatshop boys and girls in Labour will be sweating over this.

Even if there is no immigration fraud, what they are doing is in direct contradiction of their immigration policy and their supposed role in protecting workers from exploitation.

 

 


SFF closing Fairton plant

May 18, 2017

Silver Fern Farms is planning to close its Fairton sheep meat plant:

Silver Fern Farms Chief Executive Dean Hamilton says the proposed closure is due to a significant decline in processing numbers over the last 10 years and the opportunity to now process the consolidated volume at its nearby Pareora site.

“There has been significant land-use change in Canterbury and Marlborough over the last decade and there are fewer sheep farms in these regions as they have made way for other uses such as dairy and wine. Higher returns from land-use conversion, and periods of drought in these regions have contributed to this decline in sheep numbers. While our beef processing volumes have risen significantly over this period, the lamb numbers available have steadily decreased.

“Fairton was consistently processing over 1 million lambs prior to 2010. Last season we processed under 500,000 lambs. This year that has continued to decline and we processed just over 325,000 in a six month seasonal operation.

“Whilst we believe the pace of land-use change has slowed considerably, we expect sheep numbers to consolidate around current levels rather than expand in the foreseeable future. It makes economic sense to consolidate this volume at our nearby Pareora site which has the capacity to process the combined numbers.

“Pareora is a large multi-species plant, an hour down the road in Timaru. Consolidating at one plant will provide a longer season with higher staff retention rates. We have recently invested $7m at Pareora to add to its capability.”

This will be tough on the hundreds of workers who will lose their jobs, and others who service and supply the plant and its staff.

But it comes as no surprise.

Sheep numbers have been declining for several decades but there is still excess capacity in meat plants.

Fairton’s closure isn’t the first and it is unlikely to be the last.

 

 


Can’t stand up much

May 5, 2017

Prince Philip is standing down from royal duties in August.

Because, in his words, he “can’t stand up much longer”.

He’ll be 96 by then.


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