Up­hill bat­tle for dairy mi­grants

South Waikato News - - Your Local News - CHRIS LEWIS

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.

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