Does the hir­ing man need binoc­u­lars?

The Southland Times - - Opinion -

Al­liance has per­suaded Im­mi­gra­tion New Zealand that it needs to hire 100 work­ers for its Lorneville plant. So now it can.

The co-oper­a­tive has put rather less ef­fort into per­suad­ing Southlanders, so re­ac­tion to the news is noth­ing if not mixed.

It’s no small thing that the Gov­ern­ment depart­ment says the com­pany stumped up with the sup­port­ing ev­i­dence that there just weren’t enough Ki­wis or peo­ple with res­i­dence class visas to be trained to do the work.

So this is a case where we have a win­ner, pure and sim­ple?

Maybe, as a snapshot of the here-and-now sit­u­a­tion.

Whether this truly needed to be the here-and-now sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent ques­tion.

Much of the st­ing in the meat work­ers’ union case is that Al­liance hasn’t been truly open to gain­ing, train­ing and re­tain­ing a more lo­cal work­force.

The com­pany would dis­pute that, and it pro­duces an in­tim­i­dat­ing fig­ure when it says that labour short­ages and ab­sen­teeism com­bined are cost­ing it $20 mil­lion a year. Can’t be hav­ing that.

Al­liance also cites an ac­cep­tance rate of 84 per cent for can­di­dates who meet med­i­cal cri­te­ria in­clud­ing pass­ing a drug test.

The union, how­ever, talks of 700 Southlanders turned be­ing away from the plant last sea­son.

Does this make them make them a pack of ter­ri­bly in­firm, dru­gad­dled no-hop­ers. Not nec­es­sar­ily. These jobs, Al­liance says, ‘‘can be phys­i­cally de­mand­ing’’. But the union in­vokes the spec­tre of, among other things, age bias with only one of the 100 most re­cently hired work­ers be­ing over 50.

Im­plicit in its re­proach is that the when it comes to lo­cal re­cruit­ment, Al­liance is more will­ing to look else­where – specif­i­cally its long term partner, the gi­ant Chi­nese out­fit Grand Farm – as a source of will­ing work­ers of, shall we say, rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions about their own en­ti­tle­ments.

Im­mi­gra­tion NZ’s job is surely, at least in part, to en­sure that over­seas re­cruit­ment isn’t used as a re­straint on wages and con­di­tions, but as the nec­es­sary so­lu­tion to problems. And yet, the close­ness with which Al­liance keeps some of its cards re­mains a dis­com­fort, even so.

Ap­par­ently it’s ‘‘too early to say’’ where it will be sourc­ing the work­ers. Or their ac­com­mo­da­tion needs.

But these peo­ple will be needed be­tween Jan­uary and May, which strongly sug­gests there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween it be­ing too early to say, and too early to know full well. The tim­ing of the news of the 100 jobs co-in­cided with a sig­nif­i­cant piece of unas­sail­ably good news for Al­liance.

Also on Thurs­day, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was open­ing Al­liance’s new $15.9 mil­lion veni­son plant. In it­self a thor­oughly wel­come ex­pan­sion. At peak ca­pac­ity it’s em­ploy­ing 70 peo­ple. These are added to more than 2500 jobs at the peak of the pro­cess­ing sea­son. So it’s hardly as though the co-oper­a­tive is mak­ing a mas­sive-scale shift away from lo­cal work­ers. But that doesn’t make it al­to­gether in­signif­i­cant.

This de­ci­sion, says the depart­ment, is not to be seen as a prece­dent, smooth­ing the way for over­seas re­cruit­ment to be­come the path of least re­sis­tance for the com­pany in fu­ture.

It shouldn’t be.

Ap­par­ently it’s ‘‘too early to say’’ where it will be sourc­ing the work­ers. Or their ac­com­mo­da­tion needs.

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