Why do we need immigrant workers when there are so many New Zealanders unemployed?
One answer to that question is that sometimes immigrants are better than locals.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse broached the issue in a speech last week:
. . . I want to share with you my thoughts on the ‘Kiwis first’ policy in the context of migrant labour because there is debate about the number of overseas workers in our workforce and this raises a number of issues.
The broader context to that debate is simply this: the opposition often cries “Where are the jobs?” And they do so at a time when, for every Kiwi receiving an unemployment benefit there are between 3 and 4 foreign nationals working in New Zealand on various types of visas. So what many of those who ask “where are the jobs?” are really saying is “where are the jobs that are in exactly the place I want, doing the type of work I want, paying what I think I should earn and tolerating all of my shortcomings”.
And the employers who say that prospective kiwi employees are too hard to train, have bad attitudes and are generally unhappy with the quality of some of the New Zealanders they have been offered by Work and Income need to also reflect on their efforts. I appreciate that employers might not always get exactly what they want, and I acknowledge that for some young New Zealanders there are barriers to employment.
Four barriers spring to mind: education and skills, mobility, attitude and recreational drug and alcohol use. But they are barriers to overcome, not immoveable impediments. In the short term migrant labour will ease this problem, but I get the feeling that some employers and some industries have become overly reliant on this as a long-term salve.
In the future I expect industries that are successful in having an occupation added to a Skills in Demand list, or an employer granted an Approval in Principal to employ temporary migrant labour will, as a condition of the continuation of that status, be more energetic in working with Government to find a long term solution, and more diligent in demonstrating to me that they are doing all they can to ease their labour shortages domestically.
I won’t constrain a firm’s ability to grow in the short term, but I will be encouraging and expecting them to invest in New Zealanders by up skilling and training them so they have an opportunity to maximise their potential. . .
When were were applying to employ an immigrant the Immigration Department told us that WINZ had several people on their unemployed list who could work for us.
We went into WINZ to discuss the possibilities. This was a few years ago when unemployment was low. I said we could manage someone without experience but doubted there was anyone on WINZ’s books who would have that attitude we were looking for.
The consultant agreed with me and signed the immigration form saying there was no-one suitable on her books.
Unemployment is higher now so this shouldn’t be the case.
Unfortunately it sill is.
Some people don’t just want a job. As the Minister said, they want a job in a particular place, doing what they choose, paying what they think they’re worth and accepting of their shortcomings.
This isn’t just difficult for employers it makes work difficult, sometimes dangerous, for other employees.
However, while employers’ first responsibility is to their business, employees and customers, we can’t always expect to get exactly the employees we want.
We shouldn’t be expected to take on the unemployable but we can’t expect the government and other employers to do all the training and upskilling of those who, with a bit of time and effort, could be employable.
That said, maybe there’s a role for Landcorp in training agricultural workers:
Outgoing chief executive of the state owned farming enterprise, Landcorp, says it could play a greater role in industry good functions such as training and technology transfer.
But that would require the agreement of Landcorp’s sole shareholder, the Government. . .
Chirs Kelly . . . says under the SOE Act, Landcorp is required to operate profitably. . .
“I think if Landcorp can pass on some of its successes and help lift farming generally in New Zealand that will do a lot for the country itself ,so I see we do have a bit of an industry role as well, but it is a bit of a dichotomy with the SOE Act.”
There is such a thing as a social dividend and that would include training, for which Landcorp has a good reputation.
But there’s an awful lot of money tied up in the company which makes very low returns on capital.
Rather than making even less to fulfil a social role it would be better to sell the farms and invest at least some of the proceeds in education and training.