Rural Contractors New Zealand has congratulated Prime Minister John Key and the National Party for its success in this year’s general election.
RCNZ President Steve Levet says a clear-cut result is good for both the country and our economy, but the rural contracting sector would now like to see some action from the new government in a couple of key areas.
“There is no doubt the agriculture sector is an important and valuable part of New Zealand’s economy – and rural contracting is a vital and important component of that,” he explains.
“However, as RCNZ has been saying for some time, we really need some changes in the rules around migrant workers in the rural contracting sector – as there is a huge gap between rural contractors’ needs for trained, agricultural machinery operators and unemployed New Zealanders who can do this work.”
Mr Levet says the rules around employing temporary, skilled people from overseas prepared to work for 6-8 months each year must be simplified – as do the regulations restricting people who have previously worked here in past seasons coming back to New Zealand to work.
“Contracting is a seasonal business and one that uses sophisticated machinery that requires technical skill to operate productively,” he explains. “Part of this shortfall is met by bringing in skilled operators from overseas.”
Mr Levet is urging the new Government to seriously look at these regulations and how the process can be streamlined and simplified.
He adds that RCNZ is also keen to work with opposition political parties to help them better understand the needs and issues of the rural contracting sector.
“It is clear from some of the debate we heard during the election campaign that many parties are not aware of the dire shortage of suitable agricultural machinery operators,” Mr Levet explains. “It is apparent many politicians are completely ignorant about this problem and how rural contractors actually rely on employing skilled people from overseas on a temporary basis each season and have done so for many years.”
Mr Levet also points out that many of the applicants Work and Income NZ (WINZ) tries to fill these vacancies with; either do not have the right skill-set and/or attitude to be successful.
“We are talking about operating highly technical and very expensive pieces machinery. It is unrealistic, unsafe and impractical to expect unemployed people to walk off the street and successfully take up these positions.”
Mr Levet says his organisation will continue to work closely with the new Government, opposition political parties and officials too both ensure that locals have the best opportunity for employment in the sector – as well as continuing to lobby for changes to the rules around engaging overseas seasonal workers for the benefit of the rural contracting sector.
Meanwhile, RCNZ has also backed the calls from Federated Farmers for RMA reforms, which were proposed by National during the election campaign.
“The entire rural sector is keen for progress in the area of the Resource Management Act,” Mr Levet adds. “RCNZ backs RMA reform and would like to see action on this front as well.”
He says a strong and vibrant agricultural industry – including the rural contracting sector – is crucial to the ongoing success of New Zealand’s economy and changes to the RMA will enhance this success.