Agricultural contractors are warning about a severe shortage of skilled machinery operators for the upcoming harvest season.
Catherine Tither, milking 630 cows in Canvastown, Marlborough, told Rural News that there is still a lot of uncertainty for the migrant work force following the changes announced last week.
“Yes it solves the immediate crisis of experienced people still being available,” Tither says.
“I can’t see Kiwi’s filling the dairy vacancies – even with the unemployment figures. I’m pleased they acted before we lost our valued experienced work force. Dairy will be hell without these people.”
Last week, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced a six-month extension to temporary work visas. About 3000 dairy farm employee temporary visas are due to expire.
He also announced the Government would grant an extra six months of stand-down period that applies to some migrants. Workers who were subject to the 12-month stand-down period and were going to have to leave New Zealand this year, will now be able to stay for the duration of the extension.
But Tither says the Government has failed to address the issue of migrant visa holders with NZ jobs being locked out of the country due to border closures. In her letter to the PM, Tither noted that a recent DairyNZ promotion of dairy as a career for New Zealanders got a lukewarm response.
“I see the promotion attracted 300 expressions of interest, dwindling to 90 registrations. Even in the unlikely scenario that every one of the 90 registrations starts and continues working in our industry, it will not fill the current 1000-plus vacancies to be filled.
“Calving, our most intense work period, is bearing down on us, we have unfilled vacancies and nothing is happening to fill these critical positions.
“Many of these positions are for experienced dairy farm employees. It will take new entrants to our industry at least one full season’s work to gain limited dairy farming experience and at least three years to be experienced enough for herd manager responsibility.
“In a nutshell, the campaign to encourage new Kiwi entrants to dairy is attracting too few, and the few it has attracted lack the experience we require.”
Tither says her farm is considered a large scale operation in the region, which is not known as a key dairy area.
Career dairy farmers prefer to be employed in intensive dairy areas like Canterbury or Otago where there are more job opportunities in the same geographical area, enabling less disruption for school children and working partners.
Tither says most farms around them are staffed by owner operators and maybe one employee.
“Being unable to recruit enough Kiwi employees, we have employed two or three Filipinos since June 2014. Two of these men have been employed by us for six and four years respectively on one year work visas.”
She says the industry needs to retain experienced migrant work visa holders to fill the current vacancies and if insufficient unemployed Kiwi’s enter dairying, we need to be able to fill our vacancies with experienced, motivated dairy farm employees from overseas in the future.
Tither says her letter was acknowledged by the PM’s office and passed to Minister of Immigration. She re-sent the letter to the PM’s office expressing her unhappiness with the changes proposed by Lees-Galloway.