The addition of halal butchers to the government’s Green List work-to-residence tier has been labelled a “positive first step” by the Meat Industry Association.
Halal butchers will join the Green List from March 2023. Applicants are able to count time on a work visa from September 29, 2021 towards their work to residence requirement.
“New Zealand’s meat processing and exporting industry has a chronic shortage of halal butchers and we have been urging the government to make it easier for our companies to recruit them for some time, so this is a positive first step,” said MIA chief executive Sirma Karapeeva.
“Halal processing helps our industry capture greater value for our products. Having each animal processed by a halal butcher means that different parts of the same carcase can be sent to various markets around the world.
“By providing our sector with the flexibility to match cuts to the needs of our global customers, we can lift the overall value of each carcase, which delivers strong returns for farmers, rural communities and the wider economy. Halal-certified products contribute approximately $4.1 billion of annual export earnings.”
Processing companies across New Zealand rely on about 250 halal butchers, who make up just 1% of the total workforce, said Karapeeva.
The sector can only usually recruit 100 halal butchers locally due to New Zealand’s small Muslim population and the nature of the job. A religious component is a fundamental part of the job because the butcher must be a practising Muslim, said Karapeeva.
“Ultimately, we want a special work visa for halal butchers. We believe this will be a simple and pragmatic solution to this unique problem. However, the inclusion of halal butchers on the Green List is a positive development and in line with what we have been asking the government for.
“We also believe the overall immigration system needs attention to ensure it is efficient, and processing is completed without undue delay.”
The industry is also still short more than 2000 other workers due to the tight domestic labour market. The situation has been compounded by staff absenteeism as workers isolate at home due to covid.
In August, the government announced a sector agreement for the meat processing and exporting industry. This includes access to migrant workers for entry-level red meat processing roles at $24 per hour with a cap on the number of visas.
“This sector agreement will go some way to addressing our labour shortages, but ultimately we will need an additional limited number of overseas migrants to make up the shortfall,” Karapeeva said.
“Without sufficient labour, companies cannot run their processing plants at full capacity.”
Minister of Immigration Michael Wood said the Green List is under constant review and will be next reassessed in mid-2023.
“We’ve said we have been prepared to make changes when the evidence supports the need to, and we will continue to monitor our settings to ensure they remain fit for purpose,” Wood said.