Federated Farmers North Canterbury dairy chairman Michael Woodward said out of 40 people who apply for a job on his farm, only a handful will be New Zealanders.
“Only a few will make it to the interview, many don’t bother to apply because we make it clear we do drug testing and they are put off having to go through such a robust system,” he said.
New Health and Safety rules meant employers did not want to run the risk of employing drug-taking workers. Nor did they want to have heavy machinery operated by them.
Woodward said the $12 billion dairy export industry had come to rely on migrant workers but the Government’s new policy did not make it easy.
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said under new rules, farmers would lose their migrant staff, who were in many cases relatively skilled workers.
“The requirement of the new policy is that herd managers and farm assistants here on work visas must have their visas reviewed every year, and that they must leave New Zealand at the end of three years. This means our farmers will lose some of their best staff,” he said.
Woodward agreed the rules were disruptive. He employs three migrant workers – an English second in command, a Brazilian herd manager, and a Dutch farm assistant.
“The Government needs to realise the impact of the policy. After three years the workers are imbedded in the community but they are then asked to leave for a year before they can come back. That stops them buying into the community.
“It’s also very disruptive for farmers because out of the three years they have a worker for, they spend a year training them up,” Woodward said.
If New Zealand wanted to boost the value of the industry, it had to get the best people on farms.
Woodward said he would like to see young New Zealanders trained from school age but it would take time for them to come through.
The migrants he employed all wanted to get ahead.
“They all want to upskill, these are the people we want in the country, they are progressive and are helping improve our farming standards.”
Mackle said DairyNZ and Federated Farmers wanted to see migrant dairy staff who were currently classified as lower-skilled to be recognised as mid-skilled when they were paid within the mid-skilled remuneration band.
He singled out Southland and Canterbury as regions that would suffer without migrant workers. Not only did they boost farm profitability, they also had a positive impact on the community.
“They bring their cultures and values with them. Many partners of the primary visa holders are working in the likes of aged care, supermarkets, and cafes, where they’re also valued for their work ethics and reliability. Their children attend local schools and, far from putting pressure on class sizes, many rural schools may not be viable if not for these kids.”
“In many rural areas in the South Island, especially Southland and Canterbury, people have moved away to cities. With the decrease in rural populations, the pool of available workers has shrunk too – impacting all business, not just dairy. Quite simply, there’s a shortage of Kiwis in these rural areas – migrant staff are the answer for many,” Mackle said.