Debate over The Wiggles 'offensive' while crane operators unable to get into New Zealand to ease shipping crisis - expert

A lack of crane operators is causing pile-ups at New Zealand's ports, and one expert says it "beggars belief" that nothing is being done.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett spoke to The AM Show on Tuesday about the situation, saying it "really bothers" him,

"We need to accelerate the movement of the boxes in the port. We need to think about what is good for New Zealand and will make us better."

Auckland's port has applied to bring in five overseas crane operators to help ease the congestion - but Barnett says things aren't moving fast enough.

He says it "beggars belief" that the Government can discuss at length whether The Wiggles can come into the country "but I can't get half a dozen crane operators in for the good of New Zealand business and employment".

The Wiggles have been in headlines over the last few weeks, after Simon Bridges revealed although tickets were being sold for their New Zealand tour, they had not yet been approved for managed isolation.

"I think it was offensive and inappropriate to make a fuss about The Wiggles gaining entry to New Zealand and not the crane drivers desperately needed to help us in this clogged situation," said Barnett. 

A spokesman for the port told NZME it makes sense to hire operators from overseas to clear the backlog faster.

"It takes 10 weeks to complete basic training for a crane operator and then 12-18 months before they are considered proficient - it only takes three weeks to train a skilled crane operator from overseas."

Barnett says the ports have approached the Government about bringing in more crane operators without success - but he hopes the discussion will continue into 2021.

'I think we've had some very good conversations over the last couple of weeks," he told The AM Show.

"We've had a couple of ministers pick up the issue and they're applying the kind of pressure I need to get a change."