Wednesday, 26 May 2021 09:55

Editorial: Don't leave us hung out to dry

Written by 
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.

OPINION: The message was clear to Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and other government ministers seated at the main table at this month’s New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards.

The Government isn’t doing enough for the dairy industry, in particular for the hard working migrant workers.

Not only has the Government rejected an industry request for 500 more migrant workers, its treatment of migrants who are already in New Zealand is appalling.

Judges for this year’s awards were impressed by the diverse make-up of the finalists: there were Kiwis, Argentineans, Sri Lankans, Indians and Filipinos.

However, dairy manager head judge Malcolm Scott from Westpac highlighted the predicament faced by some migrant workers in NZ.

“Some of these immigrants in the dairy industry are still on work visas and have been waiting for some time to get their residency tidied up. Because of the current government inaction, it’s been held up and isn’t happening.

“These people are ready to take the next step in their careers, they have contracts ready to sign, but can’t move forward in their careers because they are still on work visas and are waiting and waiting for their residency to come through. It defies logic.”

DairyNZ is pleading with the Government to urgently fast-track residency applications for those migrant workers on dairy farms who want to become New Zealanders, and already qualify to meet residency criteria.

“Our migrant staff are extremely valued by the sector. We are concerned that the delays are forcing them to look to other countries who can offer a more certain future,” says DairyNZ.

The recent joint DairyNZ-Federated Farmers labour survey emphasised that farmers are short staffed, with 49% of respondents stating they are currently short staffed and 58% of them experiencing increased stress levels.

For farmers, staff are their biggest asset, so they need to look after them. As a sector, it is striving to offer competitive packages and value the importance of a great workplace culture.

With the new season starting next week, many farmers are a limbo about staff. Some have real concerns for the new season, including animal welfare, farmers working longer hours, increased stress and mental wellbeing issues. The Government, having praised the dairy sector for its resilience during the Covid pandemic, is now seen to be leaving the sector and dairy farmers hung out to dry.

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