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Thursday 30 June 2022

No going back to cheap migrant labour for industries like horticulture – govt

18th May 2021 By Paul Yandall | | @foodtickernz

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted New Zealand’s reliance on temporary migrant labour in sectors such as horticulture and it is time for change, says the government.

Stuart Nash

In a major speech titled Immigration Reset: Setting the scene, Stuart Nash, stepping in for the ill immigration minister Kris Faafoi, said New Zealand’s primary industries would look different in the future.

“When our borders fully open again, we can’t afford to simply turn on the tap to the previous immigration settings,” the economic and regional development minister said on Monday evening.

“That path is a continuation of pressures on our infrastructure, like transport, accommodation, and downward pressure on wages.

“Since the borders closed, we’ve seen a reversal in the horticulture sector – for example – where there’s been a lift in wages to bring in local workers.”

Nash said sectors which relied on migrant labour, “like tourism and the primary industries”, would have to change.

He said temporary work visa holders made up almost 5% of New Zealand’s labour force – the highest share of all OECD countries – with the number doubling from 100,000 to 200,000 in the past decade.

“Increasingly, these temporary workers are at lower skill levels – nearly half of all Essential Skills visa approvals in 2019 were at the two lowest skill levels. 

“This means businesses have been able to rely on lower-skilled labour and suppress wages rather than investing capital in productivity-enhancing plant and machinery, or employing and upskilling New Zealanders into work.”

Nash singled out New Zealand Apples and Pears micro-credential training launched in 2019 for workers in the horticulture sector as an example of industry upskilling its workforce.

“And, as part of the agreement to grant over 4,000 experienced seasonal workers border exceptions to come here from Pacific countries, horticulture and wine sector employers are paying their workers the living wage,” Nash said.

“I know both minister Faafoi and minister [Damien] O’Connor want to thank the horticulture and wine sectors for the way they have worked with government. It hasn’t always been easy but they have been able to work through issues.

“In some cases, I suspect low-skilled jobs will make way for different, higher-valued jobs as industries invest in automation and new delivery models.”

Nash said the government would consider further changes to the temporary workers, partner work rights, and the skilled migrant category visa settings.

“Further objectives of these temporary work visa changes include supporting employers to access the skills and labour they need, ensure that temporary workers are only recruited for genuine job shortages, make the immigration system easier to navigate, and improve the way immigration, education, skills, and welfare systems work together.”

The government would also review the skilled migrant category visa but there would be no immediate changes to specific purpose, short-term business or visitor visas, or working holiday schemes.

“Let me be clear, there will still be the need for migrant workers where there are no Kiwis to fill jobs. But a lesson we have learnt from the past 15 months is that it’s better to be prepared and resilient to global shocks,” Nash said.

“With that in mind, this plan is a long term vision to ensure our economy and our communities are being more efficient, and looking for ways to create more value for businesses: creating new opportunities and developing skills in our future workforces.”

Read the full text of the Immigration Reset: Setting the scene speech here.



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