26 Jul 2021

"They don't see an end to this" : Businesses on ongoing worker shortage

From Here Now, 8:00 am on 26 July 2021

Navtej Randhawa runs Radio Spice, a Punjabi radio station, along with running his family business -  a grocery store that’s been here at Hunters Corner for several years – acutely understaffed these days.

"This are is unique - this is a cluster of specialized businesses selling ethnic wares of all sorts, not just people in Auckland but people from around New Zealand come here to shop. The contribution would be in millions."

Neelam Ahuja at her sari store, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe

Neelam Ahuja at her sari store, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe Photo: RNZ

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"You need Hindi or Punjabi speakers. What are you going to do, work long hours. You see a lot of fatigued people - psychologically it's starting to affect a lot of people - to me that's distressing."

"A lot of them, don't see an end to this."

Normally Neelam Ahuja's sari store has about seven to eight ladies working behind the counters. These days she somehow seems to manage with just three on weekdays.

"It's a very hard task for us. You can the mess everywhere in the shop because of the lack of people."

Since students have virtually stopped arriving in the country from India, people seeking part-time work has also stopped. 

"We need someone from Fiji or Hindi who understands the language. They can understand what we are selling here."

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Photo: RNZ

Before border closedown last year it was definitely Neelam says.

The local grocers, print shop, eateries and jewellers are all pretty hard hit too.

At Sparkles Jewellers, the owner Gurmeet Singh, also called Happy, is struggling too.

"We prefer that workers speak Hindi, Urdu or Punjabi. We have old customers who can't speak English. We can't find anyone."

The counter has one lady somehow attending to several customers.

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Photo: RNZ

Happy makes and repairs jewellery in his workshop as well. 

Indian jewellery is made of 22 karat gold while most jewellery made here in New Zealand is of 9 karat gold - a very different skill set.

Happy and his son Navneet at their jewellery workshop, Hunter's Corner.

Happy and his son Navneet at their jewellery workshop, Hunter's Corner. Photo: RNZ

"It's a hard job - you can't just learn in it a few months, I spent years learning, my son took 3 years. Trying to teach someone here is hard. 

He has tried to apply for visas for jewellers from India to be employed but so far all applications have been rejected.

For him and his son, working till 1a.m these days is normal these days. 

"What can we do, we have to work sometimes 80 to 90 hours. Since Covid, people are spending money here. There's a lot of work but no workers."

Hear the full interview here: 

"They're hardworking people contributing to the New Zealand way of life - and good people shouldn't be treated this way" says Navtej Randhawa.