22 Aug 2022

Immigration Minister Michael Wood on migrant workers' pay decision: 'Actually a positive policy'

12:03 pm on 22 August 2022

The Immigration Minister is defending the decision to pay skilled migrant workers less than the new median wage requirement.

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Immigration Minister Michael Wood says the policy to lower the median wage for migrant workers is a "real assistance" to struggling sectors. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The government is allowing an extra 12,000 working holidaymakers to help businesses hardest hit by the global worker shortage.

Agreements have been put in place to allow more workers from the aged care sector, construction, meat processing, seafood and tourism.

Immigration Minister Michael Wood told Morning Report the changes would have a positive impact on the workforce.

"We recognise that the median wage requirement would take some time to transition to for a number of sectors, so these are time-limit agreements which allow sectors to move up over time and encourage them to invest more in skills and training and attracting New Zealanders, but also enable them to access the labour that they need."

He said the government was "being responsive and pragmatic to concerns" over the past few months.

"It's still going to be challenging, but we think this will be a real assistance."

Wood acknowledged the hospitality and tourism sectors were particularly hard hit.

The median wage is $27 an hour.

Some of the new agreements with the struggling sectors could bring that down to between $24 and $26 an hour.

He said the agreements would help sectors transition the wages higher up over two or three years.

"What we're still looking at here is a lift in pay and conditions within these sectors. They're not going backwards."

Asked if this move was discriminatory or illegal, he said "not on any count at all".

"This is actually a positive policy that will assist in terms of ensuring that we have sufficient labour supply for key parts of our economy and will lift conditions for workers in those sectors."

The hospitality sector is toasting the government for the decision.

Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Julie White said even though the doubling of numbers under the Working Holiday Scheme and the extension of visas were temporary, this would make a big difference.

"This is a small step in the right direction and ... we finally feel like the minister is listening."

She said the government needed to work with the industry continually because there was a "global war of talent going on".

"This can't be a one-off, that's our recommendation."

The average wage across the industry was $24 an hour, she said.

Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace told Morning Report it was good news for caregivers in the sector, some of whom would qualify to get on the path to residency in a few years.

"But what's missing from this announcement is nurses. There's been a lot of noise around nurses in recent times, and we would have liked to see something on that."

Aged care was a "nurse-led sector", he said.

"And it's because we're short of nurses that many of our homes are having to close beds. We've lost 1000 beds in the last six months alone and we're 1200 registered nurses short.

"What we really wanted to see was our nurses given immediate residency and they're tied to an employer in the aged care sector for two years and that would have given us a lot more certainty."

The National Party said the government had moved at a glacial pace in attracting migrant workers to New Zealand.

National immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford said the move would be a small relief to businesses, but it was too little, too late.

She said Australia opened applications back in January, whereas New Zealand was opening up mid-year - and the visa application fees had nearly doubled.

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