Monday, April 22, 2024

Australia lures NZ’s migrant dairy staff

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Migrant dairy workers are being lured from New Zealand to Australia by promises of residency for themselves and their families.
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Southland Federated Farmers sharemilkers chair Jason Herrick says his Filipino staff told him it was occurring among the migrant community.

It was also confirmed to him by farm owners he had contacted who had placed new advertisements over the past week wanting staff.

Four out of 15 of these new advertisements were due to workers leaving for Australia. The rest were because the staff had been poached by other farmers.

Workers were also taking advantage of the shortage by making demands such as higher wages or other benefits.

“It’s becoming a very intense situation and it will end up with catastrophic circumstances if we don’t get it rectified quickly,” Herrick said.

“What they are offering are four-year residence visas and their families to come straight across the border through the MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) services in Australia. We’re not offering that here.”

Herrick says the Government could stop this exodus if it offered these workers the chance to be reunited with their families. It was an issue the organisation repeatedly raised with the Government.

“Farmers here can’t offer that and because they can’t, they’re taking these offers up in Australia. The only way this will change is if the Government gets off its arse and does something,” he said

He says every farmer he knew in the region was not fully staffed and were looking for one staff member, if not two.

It was causing a lot of stress among farmers in the region about the uncertainty it was creating and it was not being addressed by the Government.

“There is a huge need for herd managers/managerial people, but there’s even a bigger need for assistants,” he said.

Herrick understood the exodus to Australia was also happening in other regions, but not to the same extent as Southland. He heard anecdotally workers were being lured to Canada from NZ for the same reason.

A DairyNZ-Federated Farmers commissioned survey undertaken earlier this year estimated the dairy industry would be about 4000 workers short. Herrick says about half of those were in Southland, while the rest were spread out around the country.

Southland relied on migrant workers and their wages had always been above NZ’s national minimum wage. That wage had risen from $22/hour before last year’s lockdown and as of July 19 it was $27/hour.

“If Kiwis wanted to work, I’d be happy to pay them what I pay my migrant workers, but the problem is we can’t attract Kiwis into the Southland sector,” he said.

This is despite the efforts of initiatives including Go Dairy and other training institutions.

“I’ve got three staff and currently not one of them is below $65,000,” he said.

In June, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced new border exceptions to allow 200 farm workers and 50 vets into the country.

DairyNZ is now taking applications from farmers for these exemptions.

DairyNZ responsible dairy general manager Jenny Cameron says applications will be open for an initial two weeks so it can assess and understand the interest from farmers looking to bring workers into the country through these exceptions.

If exception spaces are not filled in the two-week period, applications will remain open. If it’s oversubscribed, it was a good signal to the Government to consider making more spaces available.

“We understand the urgency of our farmers wanting to get people on-farm, especially as we are entering such a busy time on the farming calendar,” Cameron said.

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