Labour shortfall solutions not enough

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Shearers were still missing from the list of exceptions for seasonal workers. Photo: Southland Express files

MOVES to help sectors facing skilled or seasonal worker shortfall have mostly received a positive reception in the south, but concern remains as to whether they are enough.

Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi yesterday announced a supplementary seasonal employment visa would be automatically given to about 11,000 working holiday visa holders in New Zealand with visas expiring between October 1 and March 31 next year, allowing them to work in horticulture and viticulture roles where there were not enough New Zealanders available.

Recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme workers stranded in New Zealand would also be able to re-enter the RSE scheme and work for an RSE employer with 30 hours per week average pay guaranteed.

Class exceptions for border entry for a limited number of veterinarians, deep-sea fishing crews, as well as agricultural and horticultural machinery operators were also established.

“We continue to review possible exceptions that would help address critical workforce gaps that cannot be filled by New Zealanders and help support the Covid-19 economic recovery, while ensuring our managed isolation and quarantine system can cope,” Mr Faafoi said.

Cromwell’s Jackson Orchards office manager Jill Mansell said it was good news.

There was a big list of backpackers who previously worked for them who she would now contact to see if they were still in the country.

“We’d be happy to have them back; they’ve been trained it’s a good thing. They’ve been hanging on a thread there.”

German working holiday visa holder Marie Bock tried petitioning the Government to grant a six-month extension for holders already in New Zealand, reasoning it would help industries expected to have a labour shortage.

“I think for the tourism industry, the hostels, it will be good as well to have more backpackers staying,” Ms Bock said.

She said places such as Queenstown would see the benefit of backpackers working in the region.

Wanaka’s Maude Wines co-owner Sarah-Kate Dineen said it was fantastic news given winegrowers’ concerns.

“Not just for the harvest, but in the lead-up.”

Cherry harvest season was when the Seasonal Solutions Co-operative, based in Alexandra, needed to find the most staff, chief executive Helen Axby said.

The extension of working holiday visas was important for the region.

“Almost half the staff needed in December-January are backpackers,” Ms Axby said.

However, there was still concern there would be a shortage, as that was when backpackers usually came into the country.

There would be plenty of job opportunities ranging from weeks to months, she said.

Response to the border exceptions was slightly less positive.

Federated Farmers employment spokesman Chris Lewis said the Government’s decision was excellent news, and the organisation was pleased it was recognised it was impractical to try to train enough New Zealanders in time to meet the immediate need.

The announcement included time-limited exceptions for up to 30 veterinarians, 570 deep-sea fishing crew and 210 agricultural and horticultural mobile plant operators.

Shearers were still missing from the list of exceptions, Mr Lewis said.

“Farmers are very concerned that the border controls mean there’s a shortfall of up to 150 experienced shearers on our shores, and if that doesn’t change we are heading for some pretty serious animal welfare issues as hotter temperatures arrive.”

New Zealand Veterinary Association chief veterinary officer Dr Helen Beattie said while the association was delighted with the news, it was not enough.

“Our survey indicated there was a shortfall of over 200 veterinarians in just over 100 clinics.”

The critical shortage had existed for many years and had been worsened by Covid-19 and the border restrictions.

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