A Government announcement that 200 dairy farm workers will be granted border exemptions to relieve pressure on the industry has been labelled a “token gesture” by farmers who say much more support is needed.
Federated Farmers South Canterbury dairy chairman Ads Hendricks said the industry has been seriously understaffed since the border was closed to international workers because of Covid-19, with campaigns to attract New Zealanders to the industry bearing little fruit.
“It’s virtually Peter robbing Paul really. There are a certain number of staff around, and you might get someone, but that means that someone else has to go without.”
The Government announced that 150 workers in management roles and 50 workers in assistant roles on dairy farms would be granted border exemptions to fill the shortage.
“We had a Zoom meeting with all the dairy chairs the other day and we thought it was probably a couple of thousand short, but we talked to the Southland guy and he said they are 1600 short just in Southland.”
“I think it’s a bit of a token gesture really from the government.”
Hendricks said not having enough staff on hand could affect animal welfare, particularly as the calving season begins.
“For a snow event in the middle of August, which can happen in Canterbury, you need all hands on deck to bring calves in before they freeze to death, and that might not happen like we would like to see it happen if there aren’t enough hands to go around.”
Hendricks said dairy farmers have “tried to bring more New Zealanders into the equation, but at the end of the day there needs to be a willingness to learn, to bring the right attitude. That doesn’t seem to happen.
“What we see when we bring people in from overseas is they are appreciative and glad to have a job and New Zealanders have the opposite sort of reaction.”
Hendricks said while workers are doing 50-hour weeks, the farms provide housing and wages above the New Zealand median, with his employees averaging between 70k and 80k a year.
“You can’t just tell a cow sorry mate it’s 5pm I’m going home now I’ll see you if you’re still alive next morning.”
“Our government says it’s caring and strong on animal welfare and human health, and I think well why do you do this then?
“I can see that New Zealanders need jobs too, but I think they can see by now that they’ve had the chance to put their hands up, and it hasn’t happened.”
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the extension would “provide employers with an assurance they can continue to access the current onshore workforce to help fill roles” as well as “put the minds of visa holders at ease knowing they can stay and work in New Zealand for the foreseeable future”.
South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith said the extension to the working holiday visa is “positive”.
“However it does not provide the level of certainty needed by both businesses and migrant workers to plan for the future.”
“Many South Canterbury businesses are struggling to fill both skilled and un- skilled roles and rely upon the broad range of capable migrants who contribute so effectively to many of our critical industries.”
“Although we welcome this announcement we also need recognition from the government that these migrant workers are essential to our economy and a longer term solution is needed.”
Smith said the Mackenzie District is particularly hard hit, with businesses “experiencing debilitating shortages of workers across a range of industries,” she said.