Fri, Apr 22, 2022 5:00 AM

Government accused of failing to address agriculture labour shortage



Tony Orman

The need for labour in the rural sector is being overlooked by the Labour Government according to Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith.

“In Marlborough the viticulture sector is struggling through grape vintage without the necessary skilled winery staff as well as less Recognised Seasonal Employer workers that could be here to assist,” he said.

The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme came into effect in April 2007. The policy allows the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work when there are not enough New Zealand workers.

There is an administrative limit or cap on the number of RSE places that can be taken up in any one year. This cap was set at 5,000 places in 2007, but the success of RSE has led to increased demand from employers and the cap has risen to 16,000 for 2021/22.

Marlborough Federated Farmer dairy section chairman Evan White said the answer as to whether there is a shortage short answer is brief.

“Yes. We are all struggling to find suitably qualified people to fill vacancies on dairy farms. Anybody that wants to work has the upper hand in both choice of jobs and rate of pay,” he replied.

“Other sectors are struggling too,” explained Evan White. “For example, there are the agricultural contractors we employ, who can't find experienced tractor drivers and most freight companies that we work with are struggling to find truck drivers. We are all working harder and longer hours but honestly it is a recipe for disaster.”

He found it difficult to comprehend why the current Government seems to want to bring the country to it's knees while hard working Kiwi farmers watch potential production and profit's that benefit all go down the drain.

“I am convinced that the majority of farmers are working not only for their own interests but for the greater good. We just need the Government to listen and understand rather than just pretending to be onboard.”

Stuart Smith said the shortage of dairy workers is impacting on the sector as it is throughout New Zealand.

“And yet disc jockeys can come and go as they please,” he said referring to the recent case where British “DJ” Dimension entered New Zealand.

Disc Jockeys OK

“This Government does not understand what really matters in New Zealand; they have a student politician’s view on the world, unfortunately DJ’s won’t milk the cows or make the wine, skilled staff are willing and available to do the work, all they need is a visa.”

Between June 18, 2020 and December 8, 2021, 564 workers in the entertainment and arts sector have had requests for border exceptions approved. In the light of entertainment personalities being allowed farmers say they are “being short-changed by the Labour government yet again.”

The National Party has taken up the cudgels on behalf of farmers.

Labour needs to explain why it is severely restricting the number of dairy farm workers allowed into the country for no apparent reason.

National’s Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford and Agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kuriger say, last year the dairy sector requested border exceptions for 1500 international dairy workers that were urgently needed for this year’s calving season but the Government granted only 300, meaning the sector will be short staffed and overworked for yet another season.


Barbara Kuriger says hardworking farmers have helped to keep the rest of the economy afloat, but are being ignored by a Government that does not care about the rural sector.

“With border restrictions loosening, there’s simply no rationale for continuing to turn down border exceptions for agriculture workers who are critical to our economy,” she said.

“Farmers are suffering from significant stress and mental health issues. Needlessly forcing them to go through yet another season critically understaffed is only going to make this problem worse.”

Labour talks big about kindness and mental health, yet fail to deliver critical workers to dairying - an essential industry said Barbara Kuriger.

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