Southland’s dairy farmers are on the lookout for more workers, with the industry on the rebound after two poor seasons. By: TIM NEWMAN
With the increase in milk prices in 2017, farmers are looking to bring in more labour but are struggling to get the numbers.
Hamilton-based Cross Country Recruitment and Immigration managing director Ben De’Ath was in Southland on Tuesday, to look into establishing an office in the region.
De’Ath said Cross Country, which focuses exclusively on migrants arriving from the Philippines, was drawn in part by the SoRDS plan to boost Southland’s population.
“What’s attracted me, other than pure market demand, is the initiative that the region wants to attract 10,000 people in the next 10 years.”
De’Ath said his vision was to bring in 500 people in three years, 250 in dairy and 250 non-dairy.
“Currently, demand is astronomical and it’s probably growing … I would estimate there’s over 100 unfilled dairy jobs in Southland.
“The farms don’t have the basics at the moment though. If they did, there would be probably another few hundred fixed-term jobs around as well.”
Federated Farmers Southland president Allan Baird said while there were plenty of opportunities available in the industry, in the current conditions it was proving hard to fill the void.
“We are as an industry, in Southland particularly, struggling to get a lot of spare labour.
“Probably the drop-off in inward migration and overseas staff is having an effect on our dairy industry but we’re also struggling to find Kiwis who are able to do the work.”
On Thursday, the Government announced it had adjusted the proposed conditions for migrants obtaining temporary work visas.
Initially announced in April, the changes were brought about after substantial criticism from organisations in regional and rural New Zealand.
Baird said the adjustments showed the Government was listening, and was mindful of what industry in the provinces needed.
“Obviously there was a degree of dissatisfaction with the original proposal.
“[The changes] will help, but I think there’s still work to be done.
“Whether some of those staff are looking elsewhere, to Canada or Australia, there’s definitely talk of staff leaving because of the perhaps greater opportunity to get a residency [in those countries].”
Baird said as well as the current uncertainty over immigration laws, there was also a shortage of suitable New Zealand workers.
“We’re struggling to get young ones coming in at the bottom who will then step into those [more experienced] roles.
“There are programmes under way to help but some of those programmes do take time to draw in those young ones, before stepping into that first job in a dairy career.
“In dairy, you do have to account for a bit of a lifestyle change. You’ve got early starts and you’ve got to go to bed a bit earlier.
“Some people aren’t willing to make that step and they find the hours are perhaps not as good as other jobs.
“The prospects of advancing in the dairy industry have always been good and, if you do knuckle down and take your opportunities, in 10 years you can own land and have that opportunity to be your own boss.”