Hospitality sector struggling to fill jobs with New Zealanders

Kiwi hospitality businesses are struggling to fill jobs with Kiwis due to the high reliance on migrant workers who fill skill shortages.

There are about 350,000 people in New Zealand who hold a work, student, visitor, limited or interim visa. Thousands of temporary residents whose visas expire between April 2 and July 9 are set to lose their right to stay unless they renew their visa by September 25 and it is approved.

It's estimated there are 200,000 people whose visa will expire by this date. But because up to 60,000 migrants work in hospitality and there are work visa requirements they must follow, Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Julie White says it can be difficult to fill roles with skilled Kiwis.

People on a work visa must work a minimum of 30 hours per week, and this has to be written into their contract. This requirement can keep New Zealanders out of employment and also from being trained on-the-job.

"This is the other thing we'd like to ask the Government to really reconsider because that is going to stop more Kiwis getting jobs. Why does it have to be a minimum of 30 hours? That's what we're asking. Because at the moment, the hospitality industry's really lumpy, so our peaks are really high and our troughs are really low," she told Magic Talk.

"So what we're thinking is that if they could lower that down to 15 to 20 hours, so we can employ more Kiwis and train them up at the same time, we think our reliance on migrant workers will be shorter."

White wants temporary visas to be extended a minimum six to 12 months so there's more time to upskill New Zealanders into the hospitality sector. This would mean there'd be a smoother transition after migrant workers left the country and their roles were filled.

"It's harder than everyone thinks - we already train a lot of people. So I think that's really important to understand our preference is always to employ more Kiwis, 100 percent, it's just that when we go to those peaks in that lumpy period that we just need more qualified [people]."

She says Kiwis aren't losing their jobs over migrant workers and it's instead more difficult to find someone overnight who can fill the skill shortages.

"If they're a restaurant, for example, and they don't have a qualified chef, it's very difficult to operate. This is the problem at hand, it's the chicken and the egg. Until we get that skill, we have to keep them on," she says.

"So this is the example to the Government - if we had greater flexibility reducing the number of hours, then we can pivot quicker to get more Kiwis upskilled into, for example, a chef. So please don't think that Kiwis are losing jobs over migrants, that's not the case at all. A lot of our members have tried to hold onto as many staff as possible."

White says Hospitality New Zealand is asking the Government for extra support to train more people.