Yesterday’s closure of the border must not be allowed to scupper last week’s Government announcement that 200 skilled machinery operators can come from overseas to the rescue of rural contractors and farmers.

That’s the call today from Rural Contractors NZ CEO Andrew Olsen who says dozens of stressed contractors are relying on the operators to reduce impossibly long working hours for themselves and their staff to meet farmer demand.

“We understand the Government has chosen to deal with the Omicron variant by a return to only allowing in people who come through MIQ.

“What rural contractors and the farmers who depend on them to harvest and manage crops need to know is that these very real pressures and risks are recognised and that MIQ space will be allocated alongside rapid visa processes for the operators.”

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced on December 12 that 200 skilled machinery operators were to get border class exceptions as they “are vital for the arable and horticulture sectors to get harvests in.”

Andrew Olsen says that has not changed other than the need for the operators is now even more urgent because another 10 days had gone by with short-staffed rural contractors working long hours to try and keep up with early summer growth.

“MPI has moved quickly since the December 12 announcement to support the entry of these 200 workers but Immigration NZ is yet to operationalise the Ministers’ announcement.

“Our nightmare is that yesterday’s announcement, combined with the Christmas break, might mean rural contractors are still wading their way through complex visa and MIQ applications in February. If that happens, we risk some really ugly consequences.”

“We were really grateful that the Ministers responded to our plea. We appreciate the Government wants to try and stem Omicron to save lives. But we are saying that rural contractors and the farmers they service are already bearing more than a fair share of the nation’s burden and they cannot be asked to shoulder more stress and risk.”