Who’s surprised that the government prioritised border exemptions for film crews over farm workers?:
New documents show tensions arose between government departments over who should get border exemptions and how the dairy industry lost out in favour of space and film projects.
DairyNZ had its border request rejected in the run-up to calving last year, having asked for farm or herd managers already employed in New Zealand, who were overseas on holidays when the pandemic struck.
It said it was concerned the decision may have been pre-determined, and said the the logic didn’t stack up, including why fishing was favoured over dairy.
One email summary on agriculture stated: “Make sure the clear distinction between fishing ‘yes’, and dairy, ‘no’.”
Its chief executive, Tim Mackle, described the assertion in the documents that the industry could source New Zealanders for the jobs as a “pipedream”, as herd and farm managers were specialist staff with many years of experience.
“We’ve got a sector here that’s New Zealand’s largest, a $20 billion export sector, which is going to be critical to New Zealand’s recovery and we couldn’t get 40 or 50 people through that system,” he said. “That was very frustrating and farmers felt that keenly.” . .
Last week the government announced 250 farm workers, vets and their families will be allowed in.
That’s a start, but it’s a late start and only a start.
It’s late because workers were needed months ago and not just on dairy farms. Horticulturists and viticulturist have also been desperately seeking exemptions so they could harvest fruit and vegetables.
These staff shortages are bad for business, add to costs, reduce income and put added pressure on staff.
At least as bad as this, is the way the government is keeping the families of workers out:
The government has quietly broken yet another election promise, resulting in thousands of critical workers being unable to enter New Zealand and migrant families separated, National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.
“Labour campaigned at the election on establishing a 10 percent quota for critical workers in MIQ, saying that “the allocation system will ensure a majority of MIQ places are always available for returning New Zealanders, with 10 per cent of capacity set aside for critical workers and other entrants.
“However the Government has never implemented this policy. Instead, they have been measuring the number of critical workers in MIQ as a proportion of occupied MIQ rooms, rather than total MIQ capacity.
“At the moment there are on average over 1500 rooms vacant every day in MIQ, and over 9000 MIQ room vouchers have been unused since the beginning of the year.
“If Labour was actually carrying out its promise, thousands more critical workers would be allowed into New Zealand, helping spur our recovery from Covid-19 and filling skill shortage gaps.
“The government could also easily reunite the split migrant families, some of whom have now gone over 500 days without seeing their family, thanks to Government policy that is frankly cruel.”
What’s happened to kindness? The emotional and financial burden this imposes on these families is anything but kind.
“Information on the MBIE website gives the impression that for each month this year, the Government has been meeting the 10 percent minimum. But when the spare un-used capacity is taken into account, the Government is nowhere near its original capacity commitment.
“The Government’s broken promise makes no sense in the light of excess capacity in MIQ. It is novel, I know, for this Government, but perhaps they should start implementing what they campaigned on.”
Failure to allow family members in is also forcing workers out.
Maheno dairy farm manager Mark Purugganan has “lost hope” of being able to be reunited with his family in New Zealand, and is returning to the Philippines.
Mr Purugganan has lived and worked in New Zealand since 2012. He was joined by wife Roxanne a year later, and their two sons, Keired (5) and Abram (2), were born here.
He has helped manage Quambatook, a 900-cow dairy farm at Maheno, with James and Bridget McNally, for three and a-half years.
His children suffer from severe eczema and so their mother took them back to the Philippines to let their skin recover, as it seemed to be better in the warmer and more humid climate.
“The original plan was for me to go home every six months to visit them, until they outgrow their eczema problem, and then we can all come back here together.
“And then the lockdown came.”
Mr Purugganan last saw his family in person in December 2019, when Abram was a 7-month-old baby. He has missed three of Keired’s five birthdays. . .
It’s not just dairy workers, but nurses and other essential workers the country needs and whose skills are valued but who are separated from their families.
This policy might have been excused when the lockdown started and there was so much pressure on MIQ for citizens and permanent residents.
But that excuse can’t be used now and failure to allow these families to reunite and to allow more essential workers in is a major government failure.