National's Nicola Willis calls for Government to lower wage requirement for overseas workers as labour shortage bites

National Deputy leader Nicola Willis says the Government should lower the wage requirement for overseas workers as the country struggles with labour shortages across the board. 

Most industries in the country are struggling to find workers with hospitality, healthcare, teaching and agriculture being particularly hit. 

Last month, Labour Minister Megan Woods, who was filling in for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, said the Government is working hard to address labour shortages. Woods said New Zealand wasn't the only country facing the issue. 

But speaking with AM on Wednesday, Nicola Willis said lowering the wage requirements for overseas workers would help businesses access the staff they desperately need. 

On July 4  the Government introduced the new accredited employer work visa which stipulates a minimum hourly rate of $27.76 for all jobs. The visa allows businesses to hire migrants on visas for up to 3 years. Some roles are exempt from the AEWV but employers must still pay workers at least $25 for roles in construction, infrastructure, tourism and hospitality and $25.39 for roles in the care sector. 

Willis said the pay requirements are too high and are unfair for Kiwi workers. 

"I think we need to be realistic about that and what businesses tell us is that in some cases that's really tricky," she told AM's Ryan Bridge. 

"They're being asked to pay a new worker to New Zealand more than an existing worker in New Zealand."

When asked whether the rate should be lowered, Willis said it should be decided on a case-by-case basis. 

"We just have to be practical about it and in some areas of work that's going to make sense. I think it needs to be fair to existing Kiwi workers, it's not fair if someone who is brand new, has no skill in the business, no experience in the business comes and gets paid more simply because there is a rule there from the Government about immigrants being paid a certain amount."

Earlier in the month National leader Christopher Luxon hit out at the Government over staffing shortages saying businesses were desperate. 

"It doesn't matter which sector you go to, which part of the country you go to, we've got labour shortages everywhere and it is actually constraining productive growth in the economy… We really need to make sure we remove the bottlenecks and the biggest bottlenecks we've got is our immigration settings," Luxon told AM.

The National leader said if worker shortages aren't fixed, New Zealand might lose its international reputation.

"The problem is that many of our tourism restaurants across New Zealand, our tourism attractions are actually not operating at full capacity.

"It's a real challenge and it won't take much for some bad experiences… New Zealand gets a bad reputation for poor service."

Woods said labour shortages are a priority for the Government and it's doing everything it can to fix the issue. 

"We do need to be doing two things. We need to be making sure that we're doing everything to train our own workers for those jobs but we also are doing what we need to do, and that is make sure we get those Working Holiday Visas open again.

"And more than that, we've got our Prime Minister on the road expanding those schemes. We're seeing that with Spain, we're seeing that with the UK in her recent trip. This certainly is an area of focus for us as a Government… We know how important it is," she said.