'Offensive': Hospitality industry claims it's been 'forgotten' after horticulture gets border exemptions

The head of a group which represents the Kiwi hospitality industry says it's "offensive" more offshore workers will be allowed into New Zealand to work in the horticulture industry, but not hospitality. 

The Government on Monday announced one-way quarantine-free travel with COVID-free Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu for recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers ahead of the upcoming summer harvests. 

"While we are currently bringing in 150 RSE workers every 16 days, this new one-way travel policy will significantly expand the potential workforce available for those experiencing labour shortages," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. 

Up to 14,400 workers can be brought in each year under the RSE scheme, but there are only about 7000 at present, said Ardern, due to border restrictions in place to keep COVID-19 out. 

But horticulture isn't the only industry struggling to find workers. Wednesday's unemployment figures are expected to show a drop to around 4.5 percent, economist Cameron Bagrie told The AM Show, 

"I think we're getting into that zone called 'maximum sustainable employment'... it doesn't mean everybody's got a job, but it means we've basically got a labour market that's basically bursting at the seams…. we've got incredibly high job ads… employment growth is literally off to the races, the biggest issue is finding staff."

The hospitality industry also relies heavily on people only in the country temporarily. Julie White, CEO of Hospitality NZ, said they feel like the "forgotten industry".

"I'd love to know who Horticulture (NZ, industry lobby group) spoke to, because we've certainly been in dialogue with the Government," she told The AM Show.

"At the end of the day, this is offensive. We have been advocating for such a long time. We've been at the brunt of the COVID impact since February last year. 

"All we're asking for is access to some skilled labour so we can actually literally open our doors. It's gotten so bad that our members are having to actually close their doors. Some are actually hibernating, and they can't come out of hibernation until they actually get access to these skilled staff."

Julie White.
Julie White. Photo credit: The AM Show

Paul Fraser, owner of cafe Frasers in Auckland's Mt Eden, told Newshub he's had to close three nights a week because he simply can't find the staff. A recent Newshub-Reid Research poll found more than half of Kiwis are keen for more MIQ exemptions to help struggling industries find workers.

"In February we had about 9000 on employer visas. We actually estimate that we need 20,000 additional employees," said White. 

"We need most of them in cheffing and cooking, we need restaurant managers, we need duty managers and we actually need some line staff. There's actually a real demand. 

"What's another kick in the guts is Canada is now targeting New Zealand. Canada has already opened its doors up to any hospitality worker. Not only are we struggling to get staff here, we're going to have to compete with other countries." 

Canada has had one of the world's best vaccine rollouts, with 71 percent now having had their first dose and 59 percent their second. 

"The Government has told us to train more and pay more," said White. "We have absolutely done that. We are stepping up as an industry. But don't forget you can't wake up overnight and become a chef - it takes years to develop this skill."