Tuesday, 07 September 2021 07:25

Migrant worker change!

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
The Government is looking to curb our reliance on migrant workers. The Government is looking to curb our reliance on migrant workers.

The Government is looking at curbing our reliance on migrant workers as part of immigration service changes post-Covid.

The changes include looking at ways to increase productivity of the New Zealand workforce.

Environment Minister David Parker told the recent Horticulture NZ conference that the Government is working its way through the changes.

"We are sending some signals that post-Covid we're not intending things to go back to exactly as they were in respect of immigration service."

Parker says there are a number of reasons for this move.

The first is that some major cities have fallen behind in infrastructure provisions - things like both private and public housing and roads.

This has been made harder by one of the highest rates of immigration and population growths.

"We are really in the extremes of the OECD countries," Parker told the conference.

Parker says the Government is also looking at changes in terms of productivity and has tasked the Productivity Commission with this.

"Despite having world class institutions and a good education system, NZ's labour and the total factor productivity increases have been lacklustre," he says.

"And we have a concern that overreliance on access to ever increasing numbers of short-term and long-term migrants reduces the incentive to increase productivity capital."

The hort sector relies heavily on Pacific Island workers entering NZ every year on short term visas to pick fruit and vegetables and work on farms.

Parker has ruled out changing inward migration "from one extreme to another".

He concedes that there are areas of high growth requirements of special skills that are unlikely to be met from our own labour market.

He claims the Government is working closely with sectors like horticulture to address the issue. Recently, it gave the green light for seasonal workers from Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu without having the need to go through the standard two-week managed isolation.

Parker adds that, like the 2,000 RSE workers brought in last year, the same conditions - including paying at least the living wage and providing appropriate accommodation - would be enforced.

There are normally about 14,400 RSE workers a year, but the pandemic and border restrictions have cut that workforce in half.

Parker claims the Government is working closely with sectors struggling with labour shortages during this period. He says the constraints aren't related to any policy change, but to border complications.

"Having said that, we want to work with businesses on how they can attract new workers, whether it is by improving conditions or by being more flexible."

Parker thanked the horticulture sector for helping New Zealanders upskill themselves and giving them a future place in the workforce.

"We see sectors like kiwifruit and summerfruit attracting New Zealanders and we applaud them; these efforts must continue. It's true that some employers have more difficulty than others and that's not the fault of government," he says.

Technology will also have a big part to play in meeting labour requirements. Parker says he's impressed by deployment of technology at some packhouses around the country.

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