Mackenzie business owners and community leaders are calling for the Government to change its restrictions around migrant workers, as they struggle to fill numerous vacancies across multiple industries.

Mackenzie District mayor Graham Smith said hospitality, agriculture, and tourism are being hit the hardest by the shortage and said many of those positions had been filled by migrant workers on temporary visas in the past.

“The bottom line is that we’re just not finding the people to be able to fill these roles.”

Only overseas workers the Government considers “high value” are granted visas to enter the country at the moment. High value workers are filling roles in certain industries or positions that earn high wages.

This includes the migrant workers who have been here since before Covid-19 whose work visas are expiring and need to be renewed in order for them to remain in the country.

Smith and Mackenzie District Council staff went to a recent job expo in Queenstown to try to attract jobseekers to Mackenzie.

Smith said most of the people there were migrant workers looking for a business to sponsor their visa application.

High Country Salmon business operations manager Tracey Gunn said they have always had quite a large proportion of overseas staff, and subsequently have a “good chunk” of positions they are unable to fill.

Gunn said they are “really under the pump” with reduced capacity and are starting to see customer service declining.

She said they recently tried hiring a migrant worker living in Twizel, who had been made redundant due to Covid-19, but had to apply for a variation to his visa which was declined as High Country Salmon couldn’t afford to pay him $25.50 an hour.

“They’ve added all these rules that mean that this poor person is unemployed and can’t really be employed because no one can pay that high wage,” she said.

This week Stats NZ released figures showing New Zealand’s unemployment rate has risen to 5.3 per cent.

Gunn said part of the struggle was that many New Zealanders did not want to live in the regions.

“It’s an hour and three quarters’ drive to KFC or McDonald’s or any fast food and I think New Zealanders are quite used to having a lot of that stuff on their doorstep. What they don’t realise is that we have lakes, rivers, mountains, clean air and all that fabulous stuff.”

She also said the cost of living in Twizel was high, and finding housing was difficult.

Smith agreed housing is an issue, but also said in order to attract New Zealand jobseekers some businesses would have to look at their operating models.

“Some of the businesses need to pick up and pay fair wages and make business more resilient. To only operate with low wages is not really sustainable.”

High Country Salmon has raised concerns about the new rules with Immigration New Zealand (INZ), she said.

Gunn said she was told there is an oversupply of hospitality staff nationally, and the Government will not be making exemptions in the industry, despite the undersupply in Mackenzie.

Hermitage Hotel general manager Simon Douthett said they were also “struggling” to fill positions.

“We’ve got a number of positions in which we’re advertising at the moment, both for current needs and future, and we are not getting the number of candidates that we would expect or require to fill those positions.
“We are looking at every available channel to recruit, but we understand there’s a number of organisations that are doing the same at this stage.”

South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith said she had also lobbied INZ calling for changes to make it easier for migrant workers to fill the positions open in Mackenzie.

Smith said the lack of jobseekers has a direct economic impact.

“Two or three of those businesses we’ve been working with have said they would have to close if they can’t attract people in. It’s common that we’ve heard people say that the fruit will rot on the trees, and we won’t be able to get the harvest in.”
“That’s the worst case scenario.”

Smith said she had spoken to Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi who told her the rules were not going to change in the near future.

At the moment, the Government is only making industry specific exemptions for understaffed industries, but the Chamber is proposing an exemption based on geography rather than industry, she said.

Charlie O'Mannin - stuff
November 6, 2020

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