Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Migrant workers worth the effort

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Waikato farmer and Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis says employing migrant workers isn’t always easy but is worth the investment.
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Experience has shown me what works best. I could talk about this for hours but I will summarise some of the lessons here.

Employing migrants is not the cheap option for New Zealand dairy farmers. In fact, generally, it will cost you more but it is worth it in the long run.

Firstly, you might need some professional help dealing with Immigration NZ once you’ve found a migrant worker to employ. That will generally cost you $1600-$2000. Visa fees cost about $500

If you haven’t found a migrant and want an agency to do it for you it will cost thousands more.

Nothing is cheap and the bureaucracy costs and the back and forth, repetitively dealing with paperwork with a government agency, is like a taxi meter going off on steroids in Auckland’s traffic.

Then you need a house that’s semi-furnished with bedding and towels, warm farm clothes to start in winter on a farm. And you might have to take them to a supermarket before starting their job because they will have limited dollars and need to eat before their first wage cheque comes in.

So you need to allow a bit extra in your budget for all that.

You will also need to pay average to above-average wages for the position offered to allow the bureaucracy to give them a work permit for a year. Then you need to repeat the whole exercise over again if unsuccessful with that. It’s a money-go-round.

But those are the only negatives I will talk about in this article. 

The rest of the experience is very enjoyable once they are on farm, eager to learn and work for you.

For it to be enjoyable I had to change the way I employed people. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back I shake my head at the way I used to do certain things, for example, how I instructed and worked with my migrants. 

Thankfully, I was well travelled in my younger years around the world and had some insight into foreign cultures and what motivates/works for people from overseas.

The first thing I learned was to buddy them up with a senior staff member to show them the ropes for our particular farm operation. Employers can be intimidating and/or the new worker might be too timid to ask the boss the question. They are more likely to confide in or question a fellow staff member on instructions or issues on the farm.

Cars are another issue. They tend to save up for one quickly but driving here is different. A few of my staff have had a few bumps on their guards. Rural/gravel roads are not the easiest so monitor this and give some friendly tips – that goes for your farm motorbikes and tractors too.  

Generally, migrant workers look after vehicles better than Kiwis who think they are provided for the use of repeating the latest Crusty Demons motorbike show they just saw on Facebook.

Another issue is they need a cell phone SIM card, bank account, IRD number, power on in their house.  Power retailers don’t know who they are so you might have to have the electricity account in your name to start with and the same with other basic services.

In NZ it is usually okay to speak to a boss in a casual or informal way. It is not seen as disrespectful. Migrants take some time to get used to this, quite often they address you to start with like Sir Chris or Mr Lewis. Our informal ways of doing things take some time to get used to.

The way we give instructions can be confusing. The migrant might say after your instructions to put cows in paddock 19, “Yes, yes, yes”. Usually that means they didn’t understand your Kiwi slang. So always ask them to repeat instructions till you are confident they understand you.

Our dairy farm slang is hard to understand as well.

“Bobby calves, cow is crook, cows a bit dodgy, don’t muck around, I’m feeling knackered, no worries mate, smoko time, get the job done by arvo time, mate”.  What does all this mean?  Try to put yourself in their shoes.

I’m at the end of my word count and I could carry on. I will say employing migrants has been a good experience for our business, our people and our family and local community.

There’s lots of resources so please use them and make it an enjoyable experience for everyone. Migrants are keen to learn and hardworking. It might take a bit of time and effort to get them sorted and set up but they add value to my farm business and have become an integral part of our lives.

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