When locals can’t/won’t work . . .

July 25, 2017

Industry groups and individual employers were unhappy with government proposals to tighten immigration requirements.

They let the government know that and it’s listened:

Immigration was due to be tightened on August 14 but there’s been a backlash from employers and the regions.

Sources have told Newshub the Government is set to back down and keep the gates open.

Examples of the revolt include Southland, which wants 10,000 more people.

“Good Kiwis are hard to find. Guys don’t want to let their good Kiwis go,” farmer Hayden Nicholson told Newshub.

“I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t let any good Kiwi go.”

Jono Breach also knows how hard it is to get a “good Kiwi”. He just got an application from one, so checked his Facebook page.

“His first picture was with wads of cash and bags of drugs, and I’m like, ‘Well!’,” he told Newshub.

That’s why farmers down in Southland have turned to immigrant labour, mainly Filipinos, like “Choco”, who loves the work, and even says he likes the Southland frost.

“This is the weather that I really like… because it is frost in the morning, but after 9am or 10am, it’s really warm and really good weather.”

Mr Breach says those are the types of people they need in Southland. But there’s a problem. The Government has proposed a tightening of immigration rules, due to come into force next month. Under the proposed changes, any immigrant earning less than $23.50 an hour, or $48,859 a year, will be deemed “unskilled”.

They will face a three-year cap on working here, with a one-year stand-down from New Zealand. They also can’t bring their families and children with them. . . 

Before an employer can take on an immigrant now they have to establish there are no locals who can do the job. A common complaint from employers is that out-of-work locals aren’t work-ready:

South Canterbury fisheries are calling out for skilled workers, saying many job seekers don’t have basic numeracy, literacy or communication skills. . . 

Sanford’s Timaru spokesperson Karen Duffy said they always had several vacancies at any one time, but it was getting harder and harder to fill those positions.

The fishery employed 90 workers, one of the largest job providers in the city.

“We are experiencing great difficulty with employing people into our business … and finding the right candidate has become extremely difficult,” she said.

Ms Duffy said local talent was difficult to come by, and she said many job seekers lacked basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills.

“Ability to problem solve, basic communication skills … those skills around communication and working as a team … it’s becoming harder to find suitable candidates”, she said. . . 

South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith said the area was in the grip of a skilled labour shortage, but it was a victim of its own success.

She said rapid growth in some businesses was quickly overtaking the supply of potential workers. . . 

Ms Smith said bringing in overseas workers could help fix the problem. . . 

“We would like to see regional variations in place … we are quite concerned a blunt policy is being applied that might work for Auckland, but is probably not very applicable for down here”, she said. . . 

When locals can’t or won’t work, businesses have to employ immigrants.

The proposed changes would have had a serious impact on a range of businesses, including dairying:

DairyNZ is backing calls for the Government to rethink its new immigration policy, saying dairy farmers rely on skilled people from overseas who are wrongly classified as lower-skilled, locking them and their employers into a cycle of uncertainty.

“Many of the best performing teams on dairy farms include migrant staff,” says DairyNZ’s chief executive Dr Tim Mackle. “Some of these people are being classified as lower skilled workers when, in reality, their experience and skillset should be considered mid-skilled.”

Dr Mackle says the dairy sector and the wider New Zealand economy will not benefit from the policy changes to the essential skills visa conditions which will result in farmers not being able to retain their best migrant staff.

“The requirement of the new policy is that herd managers and farm assistants here on work visas must have their visas reviewed every year, and that they must leave New Zealand at the end of three years. This means our farmers will lose some of their best staff.”

With the objective of ensuring there were no unintended outcomes with the new policy, DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, recruitment advisors, and others including farmers, made submissions to Government.

“As stated in our submission, on behalf of dairy farmers, we want to see migrant dairy staff who are currently classified as lower-skilled to be recognised as mid-skilled when they are paid within the mid-skilled remuneration band.

“With this policy there is no provision for farm roles between the low-skilled classification and the high-skilled bracket. It is crucial that this be addressed so that our farmers can continue to tap into this pool of workers when there are no New Zealanders available,” Dr Mackle says.

“Without being able to retain skilled migrant staff, dairy farms in several regions, especially Southland and Canterbury, will be severely impacted in terms of profitability. There’s the real likelihood that with fewer skilled, and consequently more unskilled staff on the ground farmers would also not be able to keep up their high standards of care for the environment they live and work in, or for such aspects as animal welfare and health and safety.”

Dr Mackle says migrant staff and their families are good citizens, making vibrant and viable contribution to the rural communities they live and work in.

“They bring their cultures and values with them. Many partners of the primary visa holders are working in the likes of aged care, supermarkets, and cafes, where they’re also valued for their work ethics and reliability. Their children attend local schools and, far from putting pressure on class sizes, many rural schools may not be viable if not for these kids.”

Dr Mackle adds that what is being faced in many rural communities – and impacting employers in all sectors – is not so much an immigration issue, but one of migration.

“In many rural areas in the South Island, especially Southland and Canterbury, people have moved away to cities. With the decrease in rural populations, the pool of available workers has shrunk too – impacting all business, not just dairy. Quite simply, there’s a shortage of Kiwis in these rural areas – migrant staff are the answer for many.”

A stable, skilled, and productive workforce is essential to the success of any business, he says.

“Farmers are the foundation of the dairy sector which earns this country upwards of $12 billion in exports, and contributes to the lifestyle, infrastructure, and technology all Kiwis enjoy, rural and urban. Farmers must be able to employ – and retain – the staff they need to run their businesses.

“Dairy deserves the best. Like most Kiwi employers, dairy farmers might not hire people from overseas as their first choice – due to language and visa bureaucracy – but often they have no other choice.”

DairyNZ says the industry provides 35,000 on-farm jobs, including contractors and staff – 3,774 of these jobs are currently filled by people from overseas.

Other sectors are also relieved that government has listened.

We are pleased to hear that the Government is planning to review incoming immigration changes with a specific focus on how they will affect the regions. Effectively addressing skills shortages in manufacturing and other sectors needs to remain a core part of our immigration system – notwithstanding changes that may be required to address other issues associated with current high levels of net migration, say the New Zealand Manufacturers and Exporters Association (NZMEA).

NZMEA Chief Executive, Dieter Adam said, “In particularly, the 12-month stand-down after three years did not make any sense to businesses – having to send quality workers back home not long after they completed the inevitable on-the-job training required to become fully productive and integral to their business operation. The skills they may take with them often simply cannot currently be filled by New Zealanders.”

“Unlike in other sectors, labour shortages in manufacturing are almost completely in the skilled workers category, especially for those with trade skills and experience.

“The Government’s approach to use pay levels as a surrogate for skill level was seen as a sensible approach by some of our members, where it was seen as potentially a smoother pathway to fill high income skill shortages, but others argued it is crude and has a number of issues. It ignores the fact, for example, of regional variation in pay for jobs at the same skill level, and it may unintentionally lead to wage inflation by artificially setting a base line across the country for what machine operators, for example, should be paid.

“The NZMEA is not simply advocating for a continuation of current immigration policies and practises, which have led to immigration outcomes that may well be unsustainable in some areas. The Government needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with changes that address these issues without cutting off the much needed supply of migrants to fill skill shortages, especially in the regions outside of Auckland.” Said Dieter.

The regions have a serious shortage of both skilled and unskilled workers. Unemployment is around the level where those without work are unemployable nationally and in a lot of small towns unemployment is well below the national rate.

Restaurateurs in Oamaru and Wanaka have told me how difficult it is to get local staff who are prepared to work the required hours. They want to start later and/or finish earlier than the business requires or they simply don’t have the attitude and work ethic that’s needed.

Advertising is expensive. It costs several hundred dollars each time a new staff member is required and immigrations rules require that the business goes through that process of trying to employ locals each time there’s a vacancy, even if they’ve only just done that and established there isn’t anyone suitable.

In small towns and provincial areas, employers know the locals and would usually know anyone who was willing and able to work when there’s a vacancy without needing to advertise.

The requirement to prove there are no locals available to work simply becomes an expensive exercise in futility that puts strain on businesses and their staff.

Auckland has problems with too many people for the available housing and infrastructure but that should not be used as an excuse to make business so hard outside the city.

It is possible to ensure immigrant workers stay in the regions when their visas are tied to specific employers.

Opposition MPs are making their triennial discovery of life outside big cities as they try to court votes. That they have softened their anti-immigration stance shows that they have realised the difficulties businesses are facing.

It’s difficult for government’s to win on something like this – if they don’t listen they’re criticised, if they do they’re accused of doing a u-turn.

But most employers aren’t interested in the politics, they’re just grateful that the government has heard their concerns and will be acting on them.


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