Friday, 06 April 2018 08:55

Getting staff for spring a head scratcher

Written by  Steve Levet, president of Rural Contractors NZ
Steve Levet. Steve Levet.

Another Autumn season is fading away with all the challenges of maintaining good staff mostly behind us. Yet Rural Contractors NZ is again having to prove its case for importing some of the people we need to drive our machinery in the coming spring.

Our billiard ball-domed chief executive Roger Parton takes life in his stride, but his recent request for RCNZ to pay for hair implants -- so he could tear them out -- got my attention.

Roger has been engaged in our annual process of trying to get an agreement in principle (AIP) for RCNZ to bring in skilled drivers and operators for tasks such as silage and haymaking.

Every RCNZ member wants to employ New Zealanders where available with the necessary skills. 

We submit our AIP, region by region, to Immigration NZ which then consults with the Ministry for Social Development (MSD).

Our bid for 83 imports for Waikato this spring/summer was queried by MSD who advised they could find half that number of staff after “significant investment in driver licensing, health and safety, and Site Safe and heights training programmes”. 

Roger asked Waikato members to contact MSD -- most do -- about such staff.  Here’s one reply: 

“We tried hard at the beginning of our spring season with WINZ to find someone local for tractor operating and truck driving positions we had.  These would have been full time jobs as well and we were very keen to employ somebody local for various reasons.  

“The only person who came forward from WINZ with an HT licence we employed - to our peril!    It turns out the guy could not see properly and ended up damaging our customer’s property by ripping down a power line to the cow shed - just before milking….”

MSD has also advised that it could fill 20 of the requested 20 positions in Taranaki/Whanganui/King Country. They also suggested that with sharemilkers drying off early in drought conditions and not likely to have income till spring, they were a further source of labour with machine operating skills. 

Spring, of course, is precisely when contractors also need their skilled machinery operators. And a sharemilker may be able to drive a tractor but not operate a huge sileage machine or similar.

Contractors are continually advertising for staff locally and getting little, if any, reply. Some people who come through an MSD course could potentially operate a machine worth more than a house, but their skills need to match the high-pressure world of contracting against the vagaries of seasonal weather and demand; this doesn’t allow for exposure to high health and safety and other risks, as our Waikato member discovered.

Meantime, there is a pool of people with proven experience who work through the European summer and then into ours. Rural Contractors NZ has only ever sought 350 people under AIPs. 

Given the huge amount of work and the good working relationship established between our chief executive and Immigration NZ, I hope reason prevails and we are able to import our usual small number of skilled operators to fill regional demand, much like under the RSE scheme, which sees about 10,000 visitors here every year.

• Steve Levet is president of Rural Contractors NZ.


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