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Workforce gap will hobble spring/summer production - Federated Farmers

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Tens of millions of dollars’ worth of farm production and the jobs of other workers are at risk if the government continues to dither on allowing a limited number of skilled agricultural machinery operators into New Zealand.

"Federated Farmers has been working with Rural Contractors NZ on this issue for several months," Federated Farmers employment spokesperson Chris Lewis says.

"It has almost gone past critical now because we’re on the cusp of Spring activity and we need to get these seasonal workers on flights and into quarantine for two weeks."

Exemptions have been allowed for workers laying synthetic tracks for horse racing, for the movie industry, and others.

"The primary industries can help us pave the way to post-Covid economic recovery but not if crucial cogs in our production systems are hobbled by key gaps in the workforce," Chris said.

Rural Contractors NZ has just finished surveying its members and has found that 57 contractors urgently need a total of 206 skilled operators.

"They’re needed to service 8,213 clients - and many of those will be Federated Farmers members," Chris said.

Rural Contractors CEO Roger Parton said without this annual influx of highly skilled drivers and operators, it has been estimated there would be a 32% downturn in activity, worth $65 million.

"The effect of that would be the loss of nearly 28 million tonnes of production, with a value in excess of $110 million," Roger said.

In a letter to the new Immigration Minister Kris Fafoi, sent last week, Federated Farmers said if managed entry can’t be found for the machinery operators, experienced senior dairy staff and a limited number of other skilled technical staff, there is significant potential for economic, health and safety and animal welfare issues across the primary industries that could otherwise be avoided.

"We share the government’s desire to train Kiwis for these roles, and action is happening on that front. The 40 places on the first of six planned agricultural drivers’ courses at SIT’s Telford campus have all been taken," Chris Lewis said.

They should graduate with the ability to safely drive a tractor, but not the combine harvesters and silage machines that can be worth a million dollars or more.

"You don’t train someone to use a chainsaw, then send them out to bring down tall trees the next week. Newer drivers need to gain experience with tractors on basic tasks in simple country before they can move on to more complex machines. The majority of fatalities in agriculture involve vehicles and the last thing anyone wants is inexperienced vehicle operators put in situations where they end up having an accident.

"These skilled operators have been coming into New Zealand without problems in the past. But the pandemic restrictions have caught everyone on the hop.

"These are extraordinary circumstances and government sign-off of managed entry of these highly skilled operators, with the quarantine paid for by contracting firms, is crucial," Chris said.

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