Opinion: Where will the people come from for the dairy industry?

  • 16/11/2018

By Chris Lewis

OPINION: The dairy industry has jobs, but there are less and less Kiwis to do them.

Recent Statistics New Zealand numbers show that overall unemployment in New Zealand has fallen below 4 percent.

This means in some parts of the country there are almost no people unemployed. Of course, the stats don't tell the full story.

There are people who may like to work but are contributing to their households in other ways, and there are people who are not actively looking for work because they are taking a break between projects, and there are people that are under-employed - meaning they are working, but perhaps would like more hours. 

Even so, it does highlight the huge problem New Zealand's employers are dealing with when it comes to finding staff and keeping them. And yes, we all know the issues around pay rates, employment conditions and general enthusiasm for working. 

But it's getting more serious than that now. We are looking at infrastructural failure of our economy to provide the resource we need to grow our businesses  specifically, people. Recently the Government approved 12,000 Pacific Islanders to come in to the country to work on the Recognised Seasonal Employer programme, which sends the mostly male workers to work in horticulture and viticulture businesses around the country for up to nine months of the year.

Chris Lewis is Federated Farmers dairy chairperson.
Chris Lewis is Federated Farmers dairy chairperson. Photo credit: Supplied

This scheme has been in place for 10 years and has revolutionised the horticulture industry. It simply makes it easier for growers to know they'll get their product picked and packed and out to customers.  

For some mysterious reason the dairy industry, facing a significant labour shortage, for similar reasons, has not been enthusiastically banging down the Government's door looking for an industry solution based on the same business supporting logic. 

At Feds we are not the laggards you think we are  we have been running a successful Federated Farmers apprenticeship scheme which is recruiting young New Zealanders from urban and rural backgrounds. A quarter of the enquiries have come out of Auckland. 

Changes to the immigration system brought in by the previous Government as well as a decidedly cooler approach to immigration more generally, but this Coalition Government has made a more sustainable solution even more urgent.

Chris Lewis is the dairy chairperson for Federated Farmers.