Saturday, March 2, 2024

MIA calls for special visa for halal butchers

Neal Wallace
An expected announcement of Government approved border exemption for 15 foreign halal butchers, has been slated by the meat industry which says it needs three times that number.
MIA chief executive Sirma Karapeeva says the growth in halal-certified exports highlighted the critical importance of the halal sector and its small but important workforce in New Zealand.
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Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva says halal certified products generate $3.7 billion in annual export earnings and not having enough butchers will slow plant speeds and limit the ability of companies to recover high value cuts.

An expected announcement of Government approved border exemption for 15 foreign halal butchers, has been slated by the meat industry which says it needs three times that number.

The Meat Industry Association says the sector needs 45 halal butchers and the shortfall shows the Government is “tone deaf to the needs of business.” 

The Farmers Weekly understands an announcement is imminent and is an extension of the weekend’s announcement of border class exemptions for 200 mobile plant machinery operators, 40 shearers and 50 wool handlers.

Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva says halal certified products generate $3.7 billion in annual export earnings and not having enough butchers will slow plant speeds and limit the ability of companies to recover high value cuts.

“This miserly approval knee-caps the ability of the second-largest good’s export sector to fully contribute to the NZ economy and capture a higher value from our exports.”

Karapeeva says 43% of product is halal certified but over 90% of animals are processed in the halal manner, which is crucial to adding value.

“It provides our sector with the flexibility to match cuts to the needs of our global customers and helps lift the overall value of each carcass, which delivers strong returns for farmers, rural communities and the wider economy.”

But without sufficient labour, companies may be forced to reduce value-add processing and send more parts of the carcass for rendering or freezing carcasses instead of further processing into value add chilled and bone-less cuts.

“This downgrades a lamb carcass by around $15 each, which impacts the overall export value and the return to farmers.”

The Farmers Weekly has also learnt that the 15 halal butchers allowed to come to NZ have to be paid 1.5 times the median wage, a government requirement. Karapeeva says this is unworkable given the industry’s established collective agreement pay structure.

The meat industry needs 250 halal butchers and typically recruits 100 from the local Muslim population.

Karapeeva says given the religious component is a fundamental aspect of the job, it is not something that can be trained.

“We have no other choice but to look overseas to fill the vacancies.

“Ultimately, we want a special work visa for halal butchers. We believe this will be a simple and pragmatic solution to this unique problem.”

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