Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Lockdown adds further strain to staff shortages

Avatar photo
Rural contractors are bracing for another season plagued by staffing shortages, with maize planting and mowing for silage-making set to start again over the next six to eight weeks in Waikato. The industry has traditionally relied on overseas workers from the Northern Hemisphere to work through spring and summer on New Zealand farms and then fly back home in autumn for similar work in Europe or North America. Border closures forced by covid-19 have prevented these workers from travelling to NZ.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rural contractors are bracing for another season plagued by staffing shortages, with maize planting and mowing for silage-making set to start again over the next six to eight weeks in Waikato.

The industry has traditionally relied on overseas workers from the Northern Hemisphere to work through spring and summer on New Zealand farms and then fly back home in autumn for similar work in Europe or North America. Border closures forced by covid-19 have prevented these workers from travelling to NZ.

New Rural Contractors New Zealand (RCNZ) chief executive Andrew Olsen says contractors across the country are bracing themselves for another pressure-filled season.

“It’s going to be difficult for all sized contractors to get around to their customers,” Olsen said.

“What this season looks like relative to last? You add the regulatory framework and discussions, my new arrival, expectation, crisis in labour – all of it is last year on steroids.”

The contractors he has spoken to were pretty determined to service their clients as best they could while not suffering burnout from working long hours.

Olsen says the industry had to move the conversation away from why it could not get more overseas workers to finding a solution to the staffing shortages.

“The best place Rural Contractors New Zealand can be is to keep encouraging its members to reach out into the communities – when they open – to get willing hands in the district so they can help out when they can,” he said.

Olsen is meeting with Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor at the end of August to discuss the season ahead.

A RCNZ survey conducted earlier this year showed the industry needed about 400 more staff. At that time, there were some overseas staff in NZ which had provided the industry with some resilience.

“People who were already part of that headcount were poached out by Australia. It’s been absolutely documented,” he said.

Between 40-50 of these workers were lured to Australia on the promise of higher wages, as well as speedier processing times for visa and residency applications.

He called the Government’s management of overseas labour as a shambolic mess.

“It’s going to be the most difficult season ever. There will be clients who won’t be serviced,” he said.

“My communication to RCNZ members yesterday (Tuesday) was not to say don’t service your clients, it was to say as part of your planning, you need to look at how available you’re going to be.”

He says this was the downstream impact of not having those overseas workers and suggested farmers have a ‘plan B’ ready in case the worst-case scenario eventuated and a contractor was unable to get summer feed crops planted or grass silage cut in spring.

Regarding training, while tertiary institutions were doing their best, he says NZ’s low employment rate meant there were just not enough people available.

Elsewhere in the primary sector, farmers are soldiering on as best they can during lockdown as they work long hours through lambing and calving.

Federated Farmers employment spokesman Chris Lewis says the industry is handling the situation the best they can with the latest covid-19 lockdown as they work through one of the busiest times of the year.

“New Zealand’s been a bit of a fortress over the last year and a bit, and it doesn’t matter what industry you talk to, there are staff shortages,” Lewis said.

“Soldier on, but please look after your health and safety. I know a lot of teams are understaffed and that causes stress, more rush and more accidents, but please take care.”

The wider service industries – contractors, shearers and veterinarians are still facing shortages. He says pay is not the issue, it is the supply.

“You can see it when the (vet) staff come onto the farm – the stress of it – there’s no hiding it there. These are for salaried jobs; $150,000 and you hear the Government for the last 12 months saying pay more,” he said.

“For high-paying jobs, they still couldn’t bring them in.”

Lewis says a completely different conversation with the Government would have been had if this latest covid outbreak had not occurred.

One action the Government could do to help farmers who have migrant staff was to speed up the time it took to process visas, which could take as long as eight weeks, he says.

He hoped Immigration New Zealand were working through these applications during the lockdown to reduce the wait times and get through that backlog of paperwork.

Total
0
Shares
People are also reading