Thursday, 22 September 2016 06:55

Finding a solution to a very real problem

Written by  Steve Levet, president of Rural Contractors New Zealand
Many in the rural contracting sector have had a real job finding the right kind of skilled, local people to fill vacancies in the industry. Many in the rural contracting sector have had a real job finding the right kind of skilled, local people to fill vacancies in the industry.

Recent debate about unemployed New Zealanders and their keenness – or lack of it – to gain work was sparked after Prime Minister John Key commented how hard it is to get beneficiaries into seasonal work.

The PM was defending the current levels of immigration, and this, of course, led to the usual political shenanigans – opposition politicians of all stripes bagging this claim to promote their own agendas, whether on immigration or unemployment.

However, I assure you that many in the rural contracting sector have had a tough job – pun intended – finding the right kind of skilled local people to fill vacancies in our industry.

As the PM pointed out, many employers cannot get NZers to work due to problems with location, drugs and/or their work ethic. He gave as an example the NZ Seasonal Workers Scheme, is designed to give unemployed locals a job, and the issues employers in this scheme have had in getting locals who will actually work.

Many growers are backing the PM’s claim, voicing frustration at the many ‘no shows’ hampering the trial.

A Central Otago wine grower, James Dicey, explained the problems he’d had trying to get workers for his vineyard from Dunedin.

“Usually in a van of 10 – if you can fill a van – two people won’t turn up to work the first day, another two will last a couple of hours and a further two won’t turn up the following day; two of all those people will see the harvest out, but when we offer them winter pruning work maybe only one or two will take it.”

Many rural contractors will empathise with Dicey’s situation; Rural Contractors NZ (RCNZ) worked hard in recent years to find a practical solution to this troublesome issue for our sector.

Temporary, skilled overseas workers are vital for the agricultural contracting sector. Every year, in many regions, it’s often impossible for rural contractors to find skilled NZers to do seasonal work, so contractors must look overseas to find experienced people.

RCNZ has now implemented a new scheme to bring in overseas workers, following a deal struck between RCNZ and Immigration NZ earlier this year. This has RCNZ applying for an approval in principle (AIP) on behalf of all our members, then contractors can apply online for a visa for the person being recruited; contractors need not advertise or apply to WINZ or jump through the hoops confronting individual employers who want to take on overseas staff.

With RCNZ holding the AIP, responsibilities are placed on us, so it is important that all contractors using this scheme meet the conditions.

For starters, there is a written contract between RCNZ and each member company participating in the scheme, to ensure each knows their responsibilities. If these conditions are not complied with, the AIP can be rescinded. This ensures that all the appropriate statutory and regulatory compliances are being met; also any contractors applying to the scheme must be accredited registered contractors, fully complying with RCNZ’s code of ethics and our code for employing overseas staff.

It is early days, and anything new always presents teething problems, but feedback so far suggests there are no major problems being experienced by contractors using the AIP scheme.

This is a good example of how RCNZ identified a problem facing our industry and worked hard to find a practical solution. It may well show other industry groups how they could tackle similar problems.

• Wellsford agricultural contractor Steve Levet is the president of Rural Contractors New Zealand (RCNZ).

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