Thursday, April 18, 2024

New measures to fill workforce shortages

Immigration Minister, Michael Wood, has announced a new suite of immigration measures to help relieve workforce shortages facing New Zealand businesses.

The measures include providing median wage exemptions through sector agreements, temporarily doubling numbers under the Working Holiday Scheme, and extending visas to retain labour already in country.

“As the world recovers from COVID-19, labour shortages continue to be a persistent ongoing global symptom,” Minister Wood said.

“Our immigration rebalance was designed during the pandemic and included the flexibility to respond to scenarios, such as the global labour shortage we now face. These measures are about providing immediate relief to those businesses hardest hit by the global worker shortage.

“We have listened to the concerns of these sectors, and worked with them to take practicable steps to unlock additional labour, we know these measures will help fill skills gaps, as businesses work towards more productive and resilient ways of operating.”

The Minister said the Government had “worked urgently” alongside industry to develop sector agreements for the aged care, seafood, meat processing, construction and snow and adventure tourism industries.

Sector agreements allow for time limited exceptions to the new median wage requirements for businesses hiring skilled migrant workers, keeping wage requirements more in line with those under the old immigration settings as they transition and we build the skills needed for these industries right here in New Zealand.

“Each agreement also includes expectations for improvement, including the implementation of Workforce Transition Plans and Industry Transformation Plans. Performance against these will be monitored and feed into reviews and decisions about future access to migrants below the median wage,” Mr Wood said.

The Government has also announced changes to help ease casual workforce shortages by temporarily increasing access to working holiday makers by extending visas of those in country and making an additional 12,000 spaces available.

“Workforce challenges are being seen across skill levels and sectors. New Zealand is not alone in this, with countries around the world reporting similar issues.”

“Since our borders have fully reopened we are seeing the return of working holiday makers with approximately 4,000 already in country and over 21,000 have had their application to work here approved.

“COVID brought the world to a standstill. While we can ensure the ability for those to come and work here, we acknowledge that people to people movement globally remains slow when compared to pre COVID levels, and this is being particularly felt by the hospitality and tourism sectors who traditionally rely on international workers.

“In order to help such sectors to retain staff we are also extending the visas of working holiday makers already in New Zealand with visas expiring between 26 August 2022 and 31 May 2023 by six months.”

The Government will also provide an additional opportunity for those who previously held a working holiday visa but didn’t travel due to Covid-19 to come to New Zealand for the summer, the Minister said.

New visas will be issued to people from October 2022 allowing them to enter New Zealand by 31 January 2023. This visa will allow them to be in New Zealand for 12 months, he said.

“We are also doubling the capped Working Holiday Schemes, with a one-off increase, to recognise the spots that were unused last year due to the border closure. This will give the ability for up to an extra 12,000 working holiday makers to be able to enter and work in New Zealand over the next 12 months.”

“These changes will have a positive impact on the workforce, and will make the most of the increase in working holiday makers we expect to welcome during the peak summer season,” Mr Wood said.

Union rejects sector agreements

In a statement released this morning, First Union said the sector agreements will undermine wages and conditions.

FIRST Union General Secretary, Dennis Maga says the Union wasn’t consulted on the sector agreements and would never have agreed to them.

“The name ‘sector agreements’ implies that there has been some kind of agreement between relevant parties in the industries concerned, and this is not the case,” said Mr Maga.

“We represent workers in three of the five industries for which sector agreements have been announced by Immigration Minister Michael Wood – construction, meat and seafood – but there has been no consultation with us whatsoever.”

“There is no clear justification for exempting workers in these sectors from the median wage protection that will be extended to workers in other industries.”

Mr Maga said that immigration reinvestment, including improving pay and conditions for existing migrant workers in Aotearoa, must take priority over rebalancing immigration numbers as a band-aid solution.

“There are people already here who would significantly benefit New Zealand by upskilling or retraining for these key sectors,” said Mr Maga.

“Returning to the open-door migration policies of the last decade will damage the economy and undermine important steps towards growing productivity.”

Follow link to see full settings for sector agreements: https://immigration.govt.nz/documents/employer-resources/sector-agreements-factsheet

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