There are fears the shearing industry’s “transient” workforce could find Australia a more attractive home base now it is easier to claim citizenship in that country.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced recently that from July 1, New Zealanders living across the Tasman will have access to Australian citizenship and its benefits after four years. Both Albanese and NZ Prime Minister Chris Hipkins rejected suggestions it would lead to a rush of people heading to Australia.
However, New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association president Mark Barrowcliffe said the new rules will inevitably tip the balance for some working in NZ’s shearing industry.
“We’re quite a transient industry that flows between the two countries following the shearing seasons.
“I suppose any move by Australia to make Kiwis who stay over there eligible for certain things has got to make Australia more attractive.”
Barrowcliffe said shearing staff already found the continuity of work in Australia and the higher pay rates an incentive to cross the Tasman. Better weather in Australia means people can work five days and consistently have weekend offs, something “New Zealand’s fickle weather” often prevents.
He said NZ pay rates have improved recently to be on par with Australia’s, but it is always a battle to find and retain top staff in this country.
“Everyone is just spoilt for choice in terms of jobs these days. It’s really a lack of training and exposure to the job at school level and entry level stuff that impacts on us.”
Barrowcliffe said the shift by some farmers to planting trees and running self-shedding sheep have helped with staffing shortages because their are fewer sheep to shear.
“The return that farmers aren’t getting for wool is forcing them into a lot of choices.”
The NZ and Australian shearing associations are in regular discussions about staffing levels. There has been an increase in Australian shearers wanting to gain experience here because “New Zealand is known as the best place in the world to train”.
Rural Contractors NZ chief executive Andrew Olsen does not believe the citizenship changes will be a big issue for his sector.
Olsen said there has always been more cash available in Australia and some contracting staff already choose to head to Western Australia for the wheat season. The fact that it is now easier to become an Australian citizen is unlikely to change that.
“I think it’s going to hurt professional services where you are talking about $40-$50,000 as a quantum benefit, maybe more for a two-house income. But that is what’s happening now.
“Is citizenship in a few years’ time going to mean people up stakes and go? I don’t think so.”
Rural contracting staff numbers are good at the moment as the reopening of borders has enabled overseas workers to return. NZ rural contractors rely heavily on staff from Ireland, the United Kingdom and more recently France.
“We anticipate that would continue. We’ve always got our eyes on the immigration settings and accreditation. It’s not ideal, all the paperwork you have to go through with that process. We’d like to see it made easier.”