Tuesday, 29 March 2022 07:55

Few here, but welcome!

Written by  David Anderson
Silver Fern Farms says the recent arrival of some much-needed overseas workers will help ease growing pressure on the company. Silver Fern Farms says the recent arrival of some much-needed overseas workers will help ease growing pressure on the company.

Major meat processor and exporter Silver Fern Farms (SFF) says the recent arrival of some much-needed overseas workers will help ease growing pressure on the company.

However, despite needing a tsunami of international staff to help fully man its plants - due to existing chronic shortages of available locals and heavy absenteeism due to Covid - SFF has only seen a trickle of workers arrive from the Pacific Islands.

SFF's chief people officer Matt Ballard told Rural News that it has been one of the most challenging years to date for accessing skilled labour.

"Our challenges accessing skilled labour are well known and going into Omicron we were around 550 workers short across our site network," he says. "While employing New Zealanders is a big focus, ultimately we are constrained by the historic low unemployment rate."

Ballard says Covid has exacerbated those shortages.

The virus has impacted some of the communities around the company's sites, forcing staff to home isolate.

However, SFF has just welcomed 15 workers from Samoa and expects another 18 in the next few weeks.

"These are experienced, skilled workers who are going back to sites they've previously worked at - including Finegand (Balclutha), Pareora (Timaru), Pacific (Hastings) and Hawera (Taranaki)," Ballard says.

SFF also got five workers from the Cook Islands and says it is working hard to see if they can get more approved.

"We've been working directly with the Government to enable any seasonal workers that may be made available to our industry to support us," Ballard explains.

"We're grateful that we've been given permission to bring some [overseas workers] in and appreciate the work of the Ministry for Primary Industries in advocating for the sector through this process."

However, he concedes these few additional workers aren't going to be a silver bullet for the company's current capacity issues or our processing wait-times.

"They are incredibly welcome and will help," Ballard adds.

"We've run a successful arrangement employing workers from Samoa for around 12 years and these team members have a significant positive impact in our sites."

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