An easing in immigration settings should bring some relief to the labour shortage in the meat industry, which is currently short of 2000 workers.
The industry is one of several the government has granted sector agreement status, which allows limited exceptions to the new median wage requirements for the hiring of skilled migrant workers.
Immigration Minister Michael Wood said sector agreements allow employers to also keep wage requirements more in line with those under the old immigration settings for a transition period.
Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva welcomed the initiative.
“Labour shortages have been a significant issue for the meat processing sector for some time so this agreement is a welcome boost to our own domestic recruitment efforts,” she said.
The industry estimates it had to forgo $100m in lost product and added value last season due in part to staff shortages.
Meat processors will have access to migrant workers for entry-level meat processing roles in the red meat and pork processing sectors.
They will pay a minimum of $24/hour with a cap on the number of visas set at 320. The visas last for seven months.
From 2024 these will be replaced with Pacific workers.
The wage threshold will be updated each year to reflect changes and to retain its relative value at 86% percent of the industry’s median wage.
Karapeeva said this will allow meat companies to restore some lost productivity.
“For example, the shortage of skilled knife people means that a reduced number of cuts can be prepared for the high-value chilled market, and the product is exported as frozen at a lower value. Byproducts are also sent to rendering instead of further processing.”
The policy will temporarily double to 24,000 the number of migrants allowed here under the Working Holiday Scheme and extend visas to retain labour already in New Zealand.
Wood said the government made changes to its immigration settings after key sectors said they needed time to transition to the new rules.
“We have worked urgently alongside industry to develop sector agreements for the aged care, seafood, meat processing, construction and snow and adventure tourism industries that will be put in place from today,” said Wood.
Sector agreements include an expectation for improvement, including the implementation of Workforce Transition Plans and Industry Transformation Plans.
Performance against that criteria will be monitored and fed into reviews and decisions about future access to migrants below the median wage.
“These measures are about providing immediate relief to those businesses hardest hit by the global worker shortage.”