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More detail needed on migrant worker policy, big employer says

Tuesday 17th September 2019

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AWF Madison Group wants to see more detail but says new immigration settings aimed to make it easier to get migrants into jobs “sound sensible”. 

The chief executive of one of the country’s biggest temporary labour-hire firm, Simon Bennett, is upbeat about regulatory changes but expressed concern over how agencies would apply new policies announced by immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway today. 

In May, AWF blamed regulatory issues around redeploying migrant workers along with tough times in construction for its 60 percent drop in full-year net profit to $2 million. It said the direct cost of regulatory impediments was $1.5 million-plus lost opportunity margin. 

Lees-Galloway today introduced a suite of changes that he said would benefit some 25-30,000 businesses which have skills shortages. 

A new visa system replacing six categories will require employers to be accredited and aims to be less complicated than the current system. 

Lees-Galloway has also said he will introduce sector agreements to have specific terms for recruiting foreign workers and reinstate the ability for lower-paid workers to bring their families to New Zealand. 

He also plans to replace the existing skills bands with monetary thresholds aligned to the median wage, and the higher-paid jobs skill shortages list will be replaced and there will be open access for the regions. For jobs paying more than twice the median wage (currently $52,000), an employer won’t have to check there isn’t a New Zealander who can do it.

Speaking to BusinessDesk, Bennett said it would be interesting to see how the changes were brought into reality.

"On the face of it I would have to think that it sounds pretty sensible. But when you see businesses have to be accredited - you need to apply that policy - that will be the tricky bit. The Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation is a big and complex organisation and will have to get their ducks in a row. 

“We’d just like to see a bit more detail and we are interested to see what it means. There are some good employers which have had accreditation removed,” he added. 

Bennett added that the policy was sensible in the area of higher paid jobs, where he said workers, particularly in IT were asked to jump through too many hoops. 

“What also scared me a tiny bit was the bullet point around sector agreements, as that's used as a synonym for fair pay agreements,” he added.  

Bennett suggested the policy to bring lower-paid workers' families over to New Zealand might not be needed. “People don’t understand, particularly for migrants from the Philippines,  they don’t always want to bring their families with them.”

Lobby groups including Business NZ, Federated Farmers, Dairy NZ and Horticulture NZ all welcomed the changes. 

Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said regional New Zealand will benefit most and that industry welcomed the opportunity to work with officials on the details. 

Federated Farmers also said it is confident that simpler and streamlined work-visa processes will deliver for the regions. 

"Our message that workforce and related problems experienced by the big cities are not necessarily those experienced in the provinces has been taken on board - we congratulate the government," Chris Lewis, Federated Farmers employment spokesperson, said. 

He said the changes will help farmers and others employ migrants when they need them. 

The changes do not impact the Registered Seasonal Workers Scheme and will be slowly implemented in phases, with the last phase commencing in 2021

(BusinessDesk)



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