18 October 2022

Fiordland businesses call on Govt to help attract workers

Almost 90 percent of Fiordland businesses say they don’t have enough staff to operate at full steam and some are calling on the Government to rethink immigration settings.

The business owners say government needs to make it easier for migrants to take up jobs in New Zealand if they have any hope of competing with other countries for labour to rebuild following the Covid-19 pandemic.

They want the cost of visas to be lowered, for the process to be streamlined, and for visa holders to be allowed to stay in New Zealand longer.

However, Immigration Minister Michael Wood said the Government was already rebalancing immigration settings to address immediate skills shortages.

For business owners, like The Fat Duck owner Cameron Davies, its not happening fast enough.

His Te Anau restaurant used to be open seven days a week, but to avoid burnout among his staff, he’s only able to open five days a week, with a lunch service on just three days.

He needs at least 12 front of house and kitchen staff to be able to operate at full steam again.

In pre-pandemic times, working holiday visa holders would have finished up the winter in Queenstown and moved on to Fiordland for summer, but with New Zealand having only reopened its borders at the end of July “we’re not seeing them in great volumes”.

The Fiordland Businesses Association surveyed its members last week and found that 32 businesses needed more than 244 staff.

They were coping by cutting hours, closing tables, blocking off beds and reducing harvests – with 87.5% saying their turnover had been impacted and 75% saying burnout and stress was affecting their teams.

The Government announced in August that it would lift the cap on the number of Working Holiday Visas it issued for the 2022/2023 season, but these people would still need to wait for the visas to be processed – and with Immigration New Zealand system cracking under constant changes – it could be months before they get into the country.

In the meantime, visitor numbers are starting to bounce back, with Fiordland accomodation providers taking bookings six months in advance, and Davies said this was highlighting the staffing problems.

“I realise that there’s a lot of moving parts, but it feels like our government has been reactive rather than proactive in this space,” he said.

Fiordland Businesses Association chair Nathan Benfell said he found the results of it’s survey and the implications for the Fiordland economy “quite alarming”.

Businesses were trying to make do with casual staff and some had even lured workers out of retirement to keep up, he said.

“If we’ve got as many people in New Zealand employed as we can employ, we need to look at opportunities for overseas workers.”

The Association has asked Southland MP Joseph Mooney to make sure those in Wellington understood the crisis.

Mooney said Labour should have adopted National’s plan to refund application fees for Working Holiday Visa applicants who could not visit during the pandemic, to raise the age limit to 35 years, immediately open applications to all countries and allow anyone who had already had a Working Holiday Visa to apply for a second and third visa if they work in tourism, hospitality or agriculture.

Wood said labour shortages were a persistant, ongoing problem in the wake of Covid-19.

“Reopening our borders earlier would have significantly impacted our health system and the lives of Kiwis,” he said.

Government was supporting the tourism and hospitality industry by providing median wage exemptions for specified tourism and hospitality roles, removing qualification requirement for chefs, temporarily doubling numbers under the Working Holiday Scheme, and extending visas to retain labour already in country, he said.

More than 32,420 working holiday scheme applications had been approved since March, with over 11,100 working holiday visa holders arriving in New Zealand between May and October 2022, Wood said.

A key feature of the Govenment’s immigration rebalance was a focus on building the skills that New Zealand needed as as opposed to the old system which had a focus on large volumes of low wage labour in some sectors, he said.

On Monday, more than 30 bars and restaurants on Rotorua’s Eat St shut their doors to customers in protest at Government immigration policies and staffing concerns they say are being ignored.

Source: stuff.co.nz – 17 October 2022

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