Union calls on Government to pause visa applications for foreign labour workers

A union is calling on the Government to push pause on visa applications for foreign labour workers and instead find a way to get unemployed Kiwis into those jobs.

But the construction industry says it's struggling to fill the roles of skilled workers needed to complete some of the country's largest infrastructure projects.

The First Union is surprised it's being flooded with applications to bring foreign construction workers into the country while border restrictions are in place.

Eight applications from labour-hire firms to import offshore workers have landed on First Union spokesperson Anita Rosentreter's desk in the past two months.

"They're coming through pretty thick and fast at the moment," she says.

Information from Immigration shows some workers would fill jobs as labourers and hammer hands.

"Roles that you might call unskilled, certainly roles that New Zealanders could do,"  Rosentreter says.

First Union wants Immigration to stop accepting labour-hire applications while thousands of unemployed Kiwis look for new work.

"It would be totally appropriate for the Ministry to actually suspend this scheme while we're figuring out exactly what the impact is on New Zealanders and New Zealand jobs," Rosentreter says.

The new Immigration Minister, Kris Faafoi, has a message for employers who relied on foreign workers before COVID.

"Look for their labour initially here in New Zealand," he says.

Newshub understands yesterday Immigration approved the visa of a skilled worker and their partner for the City Rail Link project.

It's part of a 54-person application - 30 workers and 24 family members.

Minister of Economic Development Phil Twyford has granted them all a border exemption - but they still need work visas.

The City Rail Link CEO says there's no Kiwis with the skills to fill their jobs.

"Believe you me, if we could find them, we would be employing them. But some of these people operate equipment that's never been to my knowledge operated in New Zealand before," Sean Sweeney says.

He says he needs another 60 offshore workers for the $4 billion project.

But with limited space at managed isolation facilities, the City Rail Link is considering setting up its own quarantine hotel along with WaterCare, Fletcher Construction and the New Zealand Transport Agency.

"There are other big projects that need people just like we do, so we are looking at taking something back to Government in the next few weeks as a proposal," Sweeney says.

A proposal the Government hasn't yet said it will support as it weighs up the best way to get Kiwis back into work during the economic crisis.