DairyNZ is calling on the Government to work with the dairy sector to address a looming staff shortage for the coming season, that has been exacerbated by the impacts of COVID-19.
By the end of September (2020) around 2500 visas are due to expire for migrant staff currently working on dairy farms. Many are based in Canterbury, Waikato, Southland and Otago. Both farmers and farm staff are desperately seeking certainty.
“We estimate that even if all migrant dairy workers currently in New Zealand were retained, there could be a shortfall of up to 1000 employees for the coming dairy season,” said Dr Tim Mackle, DairyNZ chief executive.
“This suggests that we are going to need to take a two-pronged approach to address the staffing shortfall that will include both retaining our migrant workforce and recruiting new Kiwis into our dairy sector.
“This is a difficult situation for farmers to face and particularly when our migrant teams are so valued. We are committed to employing New Zealanders and plans are in place for a programme to retrain and redeploy people into the dairy sector. However there is also a need to protect and retain our current migrant staff who are part of farm teams across the country.”
DairyNZ and Federated Farmers are currently working together to seek clarification on visa status for migrant staff who are in New Zealand as skilled and valued farm workers.
“Experienced migrant staff currently in New Zealand will be important in supporting dairy to play its part in the recovery of New Zealand’s economy,” said Dr Mackle. “These people are needed on farms to milk the cows and keep businesses running, especially in the short-term over the busy calving time from July to October.”
DairyNZ and Federated Farmers are seeking extensions on existing visas to ensure migrant staff can continue working in the short to medium term while Kiwis get onboard and up to speed.
A Bill being introduced proposes giving Government time-limited powers to extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people.
DairyNZ hopes the Government will urgently use these powers to extend the visas of migrant workers currently on farm in New Zealand.