Rural contractors are relieved at today’s announcement that 200 skilled machinery operators can enter the country – but say the timing is now critical. Andrew Olsen, Rural Contractors NZ CEO, says he will be working on this with officials over the next two weeks.

“I will continue to stress the urgency of getting the workers in ASAP in the New Year  and from plane to paddock with as few obstacles as possible.”

He says he appreciates that Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, whom he met along with Federated Farmers leaders on Friday, have worked their departments to get today’s announcement.

This sees the 200 skilled machinery operators approved to come in along with 40 more shearers and 50 more wool classers. More flexibility has also been provided to allow the dairy sector to maximise its already announced border exception for 200 staff. Andrew Olsen says he has no doubt that Federated Farmers concerns about the impact of the shortage of skilled machinery operators helped secure the 200 extra operators.

“We both know that without more operators we were heading for a disaster in terms of lives, damaged machinery and lost production. Being able to present a united front means the entire rural sector and New Zealand Inc is now poised to benefit.

“The 200 extra operators we now have approved should take the sting out of what we need and we are grateful to the Ministers for that. The key will be getting these workers in rapidly. If we are still idling in low gear in six weeks, the opportunity will have been lost.’

Mr Olsen says he’s suggested to the Ministers that, as many contractors and farmers live rurally and often accommodate their workers, there is the potential for required isolation to take place on the property. “This would allow the new operators be able to perform their work in a non-contact manner much as we saw during level 4 lockdown for essential service workers,” says Andrew Olsen. “There is still pressure on MIQ facilities and this way we could avoid some of the MIQ lolly scramble, minimise costs and get our desperately needed imported staff to work sooner.”

He says there is already discussion with both MPI and MBIE about the need for a simpler visa process for the incoming workers to avoid some the “rigmarole’ that saw delays in the time sensitive travel paperwork for the 125 skilled machinery operators from overseas already here for the 2021/22 season.