Tuesday, 26 April 2022 12:55

Migrant workers backbone of local meat works

Written by  David Anderson
SFF Pareora plant manager Bruce McNaught (centre) with Lio Vifale (L), and Asena Lala (R) - two of the plant's all-important 150-strong Pacific Island workforce. SFF Pareora plant manager Bruce McNaught (centre) with Lio Vifale (L), and Asena Lala (R) - two of the plant's all-important 150-strong Pacific Island workforce.

Silver Fern Farms Pareora, near Timaru, heavily relies on its overseas workers - mainly from the Pacific Islands - to keep the meat processing plant operating.

SFF Pareora plant manager Bruce McNaught describes his current Pacific Island workforce as the "backbone" of his works. It is not hard to see whhy, with 150 Pacific Islanders making up a sizeable percentage of the total 621 processing staff currently working at Pareora. In fact, the plant's workforce should be nearer 880, but the company just cannot find the labour.

McNaught told Rural News the dire worker shortage is being exacerbated by a number of his staff isolating or having to stay at home to look after family members due to Covid.

That is why he is glad to have workers like Lio Vifale from Samoa and Fijian Asena Lala  - along with all the other Pacific Islanders - on his staff.

Vifale was recruited from Samoa to work at Pareora four years ago. He says the opportunity to work and earn money to send back home to his family and community is a big motivation for him and other Pacific Islanders.

"Earning money to send back home to my family and country is very important to me," he says.

Meanwhile, Lala - who has graduated up the ranks to become a meat inspector - agrees that being able to help out her family back in Fiji is important.

"I am so grateful to the people that brought me here," she says.

Both told Rural News they would happily encourage family members and friends back home in the Pacific to come work in the NZ meat industry. However, they say the time, cost and bureaucracy of Immigration NZ is a big barrier and one that needs to change if more Pacific Islanders are to be encouraged to work in NZ.

Meanwhile, both Vifale and Lala - along with many of their Pasifika workmates - have not being able to got back home since 2019, when Covid closed the borders. McNaught says this has led SFF taking a more active interest in the pastoral care of their Pacific Island workers to ensure of their welfare and keep them in touch with family back home.

While an additional 500 overseas meat processing workers will soon be allowed into NZ to help ease the sector's chronic labour shortages, the country's meat processing industry is still 2,000 people short.

Overseas labour plays a critical role in keeping the NZ meat industry functioning and actually creates more jobs for locals. The Meat Industry Association estimates that by employing 10 migrant workers, a processing plant is able to run one night shift and employ an extra 70 New Zealanders.

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