11 May 2021

MIQ spaces for skilled workers: Dairy farmers' request turned down

11:16 am on 11 May 2021

Federated Farmers is disappointed dairy farm workers were not included in the plan to use empty managed isolation (MIQ) rooms to get more skilled and critical workers into the country.

Brighter Future - Dairy. Dairy farming family the Mathieson's, Ewen, Dianne and Melissa talk about the boom and bust of their industry since 2008 and how they got through some of the tougher times.

Federated Farmers' application for 500 dairy workers to enter the country was turned down. (File image) Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

About 500 spaces - made available because of the trans-Tasman bubble - will be used every fortnight for construction workers, fruit-pickers, international students and refugees.

"Over the next 10 months, thousands of skilled and critical workers will be allocated spaces in MIQ to help provide a boost to key sectors," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday.

Spaces will be set aside for 400 international students who will arrive next month and 100 refugees every six weeks from July.

However, Federated Farmers' application for 500 dairy workers to enter the country was turned down. Instead, agriculture is getting 40 more shearers and 125 machinery operators.

Federated Farmers employment and immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis said dairy farmers were deeply disappointed they did not get what they desperately needed.

"As a business owner, you just get a bit more burnt out but at the end of the day, it is what it is. You've just got to keep the wheels burning on your farm until you find someone suitable."

Lewis told Morning Report there was a lack of people available to work in rural areas.

"There's chronic understaffing, especially in the dairy industry, and coming up to July we're starting calving again. It's the same issues as we had last year.

"The issues we face in rural areas is there's record low unemployment, and also there's a housing boom, a construction boom, roading boom, there's a lot of jobs available.

"It's great problem for New Zealand ... but we've got the budget is coming up, the minister of finance will be cutting into the dollars and we've got one of your biggest export earners struggling to staff, you've got to address it."

He said their application to the government for more workers stated they were prepared to pay $25.50 an hour for three-year work visa holders on a dairy farm.

Lewis hoped there would be more investment in training and skills for people to work on dairy farms.

Relief for horticulture and construction sectors

ACT leader David Seymour said the announcement had taken too long to be made.

"The government has done the right thing but its also reacted like a kid after that shows up after the race has run and expects a medal for participation."

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Winegrowers will have to bear the cost of bringing workers in from overseas. (File image) Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The horticulture industry feared a season's worth of fruit would rot if more workers were not allowed into the country.

From June, 300 will be able to cross the border every month under the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme, totalling almost 2500 by next March.

New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said the news had eased some concern.

"We were seriously concerned we weren't going to get all our vines pruned this year, we're in the midst of a pruning season at the moment and that would've been a serious issue for the industry."

However, the government is not covering the cost of managed isolation, leaving it to industries to decide who does.

National Party deputy leader Shane Reti said all stakeholders should chip in - workers, employers and the government.

Gregan said if winegrowers wanted the workers, they would have to foot the bill.

"We've got a choice here, we asked the government to allow more RSE workers into the country, getting those RSE workers into the country is a very significant positive," he said.

"Unfortunately, we haven't been able to agree with the government on the costs but it will be an individual business decision about whether companies are prepared to accept those costs or not."

It is the same deal in the construction sector, but Fletcher Construction chief executive Peter Reidy expected firms would be happy to pay.

Roughly 300 specialised construction workers will take up MIQ rooms between June and October, before they start work on projects like Transmission Gully and the City Rail link.

Reidy said those coming in would be high-end professionals with technical capability.

"There's roles where we just can't get those people in New Zealand but when they come to the projects, it stops the projects from being delayed."

There are about 20,000 available spots in MIQ at the moment. The government is advising New Zealanders overseas if they want to come home, now is the time to do it.

The government has also indicated that it may announce further exemptions if the MIQ network has the capacity.

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