Why do we bring in immigrants when there are so many people on benefits?
Prime Minister John Key gave the answer:
“We bring in people to pick fruit under the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) scheme, and they come from the islands, and they do a fabulous job. And the government has been saying ‘well, OK, there are some unemployed people who live in the Hawke’s Bay, and so why can’t we get them to pick fruit’, and we have been trialling a domestic RSE scheme.
“But go and ask the employers, and they will say some of these people won’t pass a drug test, some of these people won’t turn up for work, some of these people will claim they have health issues later on. So it’s not to say there aren’t great people who transition from Work and Income to work, they do, but it’s equally true that they’re also living in the wrong place, or they just can’t muster what is required to actually work.”
He said geographic location was a major factor in matching unemployed people up with available jobs, and filling a position like a hairdresser in Queenstown could require a migrant to fill the role. . .
He was criticised for this but employers back him up:
The New Zealand Seasonal Workers Scheme, is designed to give unemployed locals a job and aims to help them move to areas with staff shortages.
But fruit growers said they were frustrated by the number of ‘no shows’ involved in the trial.
Central Otago wine grower James Dicey said he had tried several times to get workers in the trial to pick grapes for him.
“I’ve tried the scheme and worked hand in glove with Work and Income in the past and the level of suitable candidates who are prepared to turn up on a reliable basis and do an honest day’s work is pretty skinny on the ground. The last attempt I made on this, we tried to import some people from Dunedin. We had 1400 people be interviewed and we struggled to fill an eight-seater bus,” he said.
Mr Dicey said even before the scheme he tried to get a van full of beneficiaries to do seasonal work for him, but to no avail.
“Usually in a van of 10, if you can fill a van, two people won’t turn up to work the first day, another two people will last a couple of hours, the next two people won’t turn up the following day, then two of those people will see the harvest out, then when we offer them winter pruning work maybe one or two will do that.”
Mr Dicey said trying to get the workers left to do what was necessary to become full time – such as get their restricted licence – was difficult.
“I’ve offered all sorts of incentives for these two kids that I’ve got working for me at the moment to try to get them from their learners to their restricted licence, they’re not motivated. I’ve offered them money, I’ve put things on the table and I don’t understand what more I can do with these guys to get them across the line. And it’s a constant source of frustration. It’s just one illustration of something that makes it very difficult for me to be able to offer full time employment.” . . .
It’s not just in horticulture, dairying depends on foreign workers, in particular backpackers who, like Kiwis when they travel, are willing to work while they explore the country.
In the political world of the Opposition who want fewer foreigners every unemployed person has the attitude and ability to work.
But in the real world it’s different.
Unemployment is now around 5% nationally and lower in some of the places where there’ are staff shortages.
That’s getting down to the unemployable – people who can’t or won’t work.
When you’ve got fruit and vegetables to pick or cows to milk, you need people you can rely on to do what’s required when it’s required.
The alternative to foreign workers, be they visitors or immigrants, when locals won’t work is more mechanisation.
A friend who with a horticultural business installed a new sorting machine which took the place of five workers.
It was expensive but he said the difficulty of finding staff and increased complexities and costs of employment meant it was worth it.
This is the choice employers face when they can’t find locals who can and will work – foreigners or machines.