Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Wage relief for meat works takes edge off

Neal Wallace
Immigration Minister’s announcement welcomed by industry under strain.
Immigration Minister Michael Wood has just given highly skilled people yet another reason not to come to NZ and to go to Australia, where partners are automatically given open work visas, says an immigration expert.
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The meat industry has been given limited exceptions to the median wage requirement for migrants, which the sector said should take the edge off last year’s labour issues.

Immigration Minister Michael Wood said in return for the exemption, the sector is expected to make “ongoing improvements” to working conditions and put significant effort into retaining, training and upskilling New Zealanders.

Wood said the sector has “traditionally relied on lower-paid migrants”, but Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said migrants make up just 5% of the 25,000-strong work force.

“I hear claims of an overreliance on migrant labour, but it isn’t true for our industry,” Karapeeva said.

One meat company she knows of employs 10 migrants, but in doing so it allows the plant to operate at a level that employs NZ workers.

“As long as the systems work well and the visa processing is timely so that we can get the people we need, it should take the severe edge off the work shortfall.”

Read: Days of relying on cheap migrant labour are gone

Wood said the length of these exceptions is still to be confirmed.

“Employers in the sector will also be able to continue recruiting migrants with open work rights, such as working holidaymakers and students for roles paying below the median wage.”

Wood said the government is trying to rebalance immigration to support the transition to a higher-productivity, higher-wage economy. 

Karapeeva said in a separate scheme, meat companies have used every border exception visa granted by the government to recruit about 600 migrant workers.

“This shows we are not a boy crying wolf. There is a genuine need,” she said.

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