DairyNZ has three key priorities for the next government.
Submissions to MBIE over the changes have now closed, but Dan Schmidt, of the DairyNZ people team, is encouraging farmers to talk to their MPs if they think their businesses will be affected. The new rules are due to take effect in August.
Under the proposal, all migrant workers earning at the low end of the pay scale – less than $23.49 an hour – would be eligible only for one-year work visas, renewable for three years before a one-year mandatory stand-down.
Partners and children would not be allowed in unless they qualified for a visa in their own right.
DairyNZ says that would apply to many workers in the industry.
Those earning at the high end – more than $35.24 an hour – would be eligible to apply for five-year visas, to bring family and to have a pathway to residency.
However, workers earning $23.49 - $35.24 an hour would be eligible for three-year visas, with family – but only if they were classified as skilled workers under the ANZSCO (Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations) system.
That includes farm manager and assistant farm manager, but it leaves lower-skilled classifications including herd manager and dairy assistant eligible only for the lowest-level visas. They would have to be earning unfeasibly high wages before being allowed off the bottom rung.
“There’s no mid-skill band for these guys,” said Schmidt.
$35.24 an hour represented an annual salary of about $73,000 for a 40-hour week or about $90,000 for a 50-hour week. He said it was a quite high threshold for them to have to meet.
Schmidt said the affected workers were making a valuable contribution to the industry.
“In every interaction with people that we have, [farmers] say these guys are as important as the farm managers.”
Schmidt said employment in the dairy industry was not necessarily a case of choosing either migrants or Kiwis. A stable core workforce gave farmers a better chance of taking on the local school leaver.