Farming industry 'extremely relieved' as Govt grants border exemption to dairy workers, vets

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. Photo credit: Getty Images

There is relief in the dairy sector after the Government granted border exemptions for more than 200 skilled workers.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor on Thursday said up to 150 dairy farm workers in management roles and up to 50 workers in dairy assistant roles will be allowed into the country. Up to 50 general practice vets will also be granted exemptions.

The move comes after months of lobbying by industry groups such as DairyNZ and Federated Farmers, who say farmers have been "crying out for dairy farm staff" since the closure of the border.

According to the groups, almost 50 percent of farmers surveyed have reported vacancies on farms.

In a statement on Thursday the groups said they were "extremely relieved" by the announcement.

"I have taken many, many calls from people who are struggling to cope without their farm managers and skilled staff. It has been a desperate time for many dairy farming families," Federated Farmers immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis said.

He said the job now will be for DairyNZ, Immigration NZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to see how to best allocate the 200 spaces across the country.

Farmers say the exemptions will also help some workers stuck overseas return to their jobs in New Zealand. 

"This is positive news for farmers who will be encouraged that Government have heard our concerns and responded," DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said.

"We will be ensuring farmers understand the detail of the class exception to be able to make an informed decision."

Since the borders closed the industry has made numerous attempts to attract more Kiwi workers to the sector, but with little luck.

A recent survey by DairyNZ and Federated Farmers showed 87 percent of those surveyed had made changes to their business to try and attract staff, including giving them more time off, reducing the hours of work, increasing pay and providing more upskilling and training opportunities. 

O'Connor said dairy managers and vets had skills "developed over many years that we can't replicate overnight".

"Despite the previous border class exception for vets, our domestic vet skill shortage remains acute, including in hard to recruit roles in isolated rural practices.

 "This new class exception will allow veterinarians to enter New Zealand if they have between three-five years' experience and meet the remuneration threshold of $85,000 per year."

The Government also extended the expiration date of working holiday and seasonal employment workers due to run out between now and December in a bid to stem the severe labour shortage in the horticulture and viticulture industries.

Farmers said although the border exceptions will help take the pressure off for the coming season it won't solve the long-term problem facing many industries.