Uphill battle for dairy migrants
The Government recently relaxed the ‘‘mid-skilled’’ migrant salary threshold to avoid tough new restrictions down to $41,000. So why are farmers still unhappy?
They’re unhappy because in the dairy sector, salary threshold is not the problem. In submissions to the Government the dairy industry did not object to the original threshold of $49,000.
The fact is, unless the migrant worker is a farm manager or earns over $73,000, they’re deemed ‘‘low-skilled’’ and booted out of the country after three years. Hardly an incentive to even apply in the first place, and disruptive and expensive for the farmer, who has to look for someone else to plug the gap.
The average entry level dairy worker salary is $40,960, or about $20 an hour for a 40-hour working week. While it’s true that average weekly hours on farms are high compared with other entry-level positions, which means the per hour rate might be slightly lower, these are not bottom-of-the-rung wages.
What we wanted from the Government was access to the ‘‘mid-skilled’’ threshold. This is where it gets complicated, which is probably why there has been a degree of confusion in the media since last week’s announcements.
The Government’s new skills categories have two components: how an occupation is classified under ANZSCO (Australia New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations) and a remuneration component.
Only occupations classified as level 1, 2 or 3 on ANZSCO can be categorised as ‘‘mid-skilled’’, regardless of the level of remuneration received.
Apart from farm managers, who are classified at level 1 – the highest level – on ANZSCO, all farm workers are classified as level 5, so regardless of remuneration, no farm workers can access the ‘‘mid-skilled’ level of the policy framework.
So far in 2016-17 there have been three times as many temporary Essential Skills Visas granted to dairy workers at skill level 5 than skill level 1. After three years of effort by the employee and farmer to build up their skills, integrate them into the industry, and get them to the threshold of moving into management, these ‘level 1’ staff will now strike the stand-down rule and must leave New Zealand for a year.
If there was a prospect in three years’ time that a whole lot of New Zealanders would spring forth to take the jobs, that might be okay. But the labour shortages in rural areas are much deeper than that. Increasing urbanisation and difficulties in attracting people to often remote rural areas means it will take a massive step change to address this shortage.
We need continued access to migrant workers to keep this vital sector strong.
Farmers are not happy with new migrant rules.