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Opinion

First Light: New Zealand needs boots on the ground, We need a labour force

Every morning on this programme I interview a CEO and also someone who’s working in the primary industries, and without fail, to the best of my memory, they say the single biggest issue for them is access to labour.

It seems every industry, every sector, the likes of health, hospo, tourism, construction, aged-care, horticulture, dairy, arable - they cannot get the people they need to run their businesses. 

On our farms; I've heard stories about bringing grandparents out of retirement to operate heavy machinery and if that's not an option, farmers are relying on young and inexperienced students stepping in. The Irish typically come here to help with our harvests, but they can’t get it. Working holidaymakers pick our fruit and although some access has been given to them, it was too little and way, way too late. 

Our dairy farmers often employ Phillipino’s because they have great animal husbandry skills. they can’t get in either. who's looking after some of our young stock and bobby calves? 

We need crane drivers, we need nurses, we need carers for our rest homes. 

Queenstown is in a right pickle. there is typically a large Brazilian community in Queenstown helping run hospo.  Queenstown, pre-COVID, often looked like a meeting of the United Nations, but Queenstown can't get the staff either. On the ski fields, it’s always the Australians and the brits running the lifts, and there’s a healthy dose of Canadians on our slopes giving lessons to long chains of primary school kids. They can’t get in either, Immigration New Zealand is just one big backlog of under-processed and under-prioritised visas. Everyone from financial migrants to skilled migrants are caught up in this.  It’s a mess.

And so we have an expensive trade envoy in Asia at the moment, the prime minister is there with a delegation in Singapore and she's off to Japan too.  And she's telling the world our doors are open, although they're not yet. 

Yesterday, it was announced that we're extending our working holiday visas to another 100 Singaporeans. it was 200, it’s now 300.

Now, I don’t imagine we’ll see them in our dairy sheds or on our ski fields but that’s okay, a tourist dollar is a tourist dollar. if they come here and work in some capacity and spend some money, that's fab, we’ll take it.

But, please, for the love of God, I hope some stonking big announcement is coming soon that will provide a bit of support for our long-forgotten tourist and hospitality sectors, and all the other sector who are reliant on migrant labour. 

The Government doesn't like migrants. It is not a pro-immigration government. but, and I've said this before, now is not the time to try and shift New Zealand to a high wage economy by shutting down the supply of people, of labour. 

New Zealand needs boots on the ground. We need a labour force. 

Instead, we're seeing labour laws being rapidly overhauled. we're seeing sheer bloody-mindedness in the face of our health and aged care sectors who are crying out for people to care for our sick and our old. 

I can only assume this is how the government thinks we'll move to a higher income economy, by strangling the supply of people, employers will be forced to pay more for staff. 

It's such a flawed economic model as we emerge from a two-year global health pandemic. 

MBIE, the ministry, says 50,000 kiwis will jump ship and leave this year. and still, the government just watches on. Immigration New Zealand it sits, and watches on too. Does anybody in this government understand how impactful the lack of access to labour is on the many kiwi businesses who need people now to survive?

Again, I've said this before. now is not the time to lean into ideology. now is not the time for this government to try and force New Zealand to become a higher wage economy by strangling supply. 

Timing, as always, is everything.