Pork sector calls for 'urgent' meeting to find solution to shortage of skilled migrant workers

"Pig farming is a relatively niche sector in New Zealand."
"Pig farming is a relatively niche sector in New Zealand." Photo credit: Getty

The country's pork sector says it is facing "severe staff shortages" with skilled migrant workers unable to enter the country and those already here in danger of not having their visas renewed.

The industry is calling on the Government to urgently review its policies around who it lets into the country in the wake of COVID-19.

It follows similar complaints by others in the primary industries. 

It is estimated the farming industry has a shortfall of around 1000 workers due to the pandemic. Last week, Rural Contractors New Zealand met with Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor to find a solution to a shortage of skilled machinery operators. O'Connor said while the Government recognises the problem, the priority is on training up Kiwis who have lost their jobs in other sectors to fill the necessary roles.

David Baines, chief executive of NZ Pork, says he agrees it would be great to fill the open positions with New Zealanders but to do so quickly is not practical.

"The sector's strong preference would be to have a pool of available skilled and unskilled New Zealand workers," Baines said on Tuesday.

"However, pig farming is a relatively niche sector in New Zealand and the reality is that there is a significant shortage of New Zealanders applying for roles."

He said the industry here relies on a supply of skilled migrant workers who have been trained in their home country.

"The numbers in total are small, particularly compared to major industries such as dairy, but the productivity of the industry is very vulnerable because of the precision nature of pig farming."

Baines said NZ Pork has requested an urgent meeting with Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway to discuss the issue.

"While we recognise that COVID-19 has and will continue to leave New Zealanders out of work, and hopefully create some opportunities for New Zealanders who are prepared and willing to work on pig farms, the sector cannot wait for such people to perhaps become available," said Baines. 

As well as the problem of existing workers being unable to return from overseas visits, Baines said a number of pig farmers had expressed concern some workers already here would have to leave the country if their work visas were not renewed. 

There were also concerns over the cost of visas, processing times and a lack of consistency in terms of visa lengths and conditions.