New Zealand’s dairy industry faces a shortage of as many as 6,000 workers due to the nation’s tight labor market and the closed border.
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The government is granting exemptions that will allow 200 foreign dairy workers to come into the country, but that is insufficient to fill the shortfall, Tim Mackle, chief executive of DairyNZ, said in a statement Tuesday in Wellington. His group, which advocates on behalf of farmers, is pushing for another 1,500 international workers to be allowed across the border this year.

The dairy industry generates about 30% of the nation’s exports and employs about 50,000 people, many of whom are drawn from overseas. The closed border has helped push the jobless rate to a 14-year low of 3.4% and some bank economists expect it to fall further this year.

“Border closures and an unemployment rate at 3.4% are creating ongoing stress for dairy farmers,” Mackle said. “Without the right number of people on farm, it puts animal welfare at risk, constrains the sector’s ability to make environmental progress, and places a greater burden on increasingly stretched teams, with staff often having to work extraordinary hours.”

DairyNZ is still talking to the government about how foreign workers who get the exemption can actually find a place in the nation’s managed isolation system, including the option of rural self-isolation.

The government has temporarily closed applications for spots in managed isolation due to the threat posed by Covid-19 variant omicron, which has yet to take hold in New Zealand.

“There is no point having the class exception if people can’t actually then get into the country due to border restrictions,” Mackle said. “We are exploring on-farm isolation as an option. Farms are already away from communities, and farmers are used to maintaining good hygiene standards.”

“New Zealand farmers will be happy with this result,” said NZX dairy analyst Alex Winning.

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