13 Jun 2019

One Billion Trees scheme on track despite shortages - Minister Shane Jones

10:37 am on 13 June 2019

Forestry and Regional Economic Minister Shane Jones is adamant the Billion Trees Programme is on track despite worker shortages.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, also Forestry Minister, Infrastructure Minister, Associate Finance Minister, Associate State Owned Enterprises Minister, Associate Transport Minister

Forestry and Regional Economic Minister Shane Jones. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Te Puke Forestry Contractor Nathan Fogden was 10 to 15 workers down this season, and he says that means he has planted half a million trees less this season.

To help plug the labour gap, just under half of his workforce has come from from overseas, mainly the Pacific Islands.

"Those guys have been a fantastic addition to our crews, but there is a huge challenge to A: get the guys here in the first place and B: to keep them here," Mr Fogden said.

If labour shortages continued the government would not meet its goal to plant a billion trees by 2028, he said.

He wanted overseas workers to be allowed in on two-year rather than one-year visas.

* How hard is it to plant trees for a living? Checkpoint's Lisa Owen went to find out:

Prue Younger, from the Forest Industry Contractors Association, wanted faster access to migrant labour saying it takes months to get immigration approval.

Ms Younger said the industry wanted to train up New Zealanders, but that would take time.

"To get them actually trained up, give them the culture and the life skills that they need, whereas we've got migrants coming in from Suva, who desperately want the work, work really hard and are fantastic workers," she said.

National's spokesperson for economic and regional development, Paul Goldsmith, said the government was not moving quickly enough to fix the problem.

Paul Goldsmith

National's spokesperson for economic and regional development Paul Goldsmith. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"That is because New Zealand First came into government with a strong anti-immigration policy and that has gunged up the system and so we are not getting the workers that we need," he said.

He criticised the government for getting rid of welfare sanctions.

Mr Goldsmith said he doubted there would ever be enough workers to plant a billion trees by the 2028 deadline - but Mr Jones disagreed.

"I don't believe that the billion tree strategy will be fatally wounded by these regional concerns among some planting crews," he said.

Mr Jones said there had been successful training programmes set up and not all regions had labour shortages.

While he was taking the industry's comments on board, his primary focus was putting New Zealanders to work.

"I have heard these concerns, they have been directly discussed with me and I'm willing to take the issue up with the Minister of Immigration," Mr Jones said.

"But I have to be realistic, I am also a champion to ensure that our own young people are made to get up, leave their dissolute ways and work for a living."

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