Stressed rural contractors, told in mid-December they could bring in 200 more skilled machinery operators, have not yet seen a single arrival given any MIQ space.

Rural Contractors NZ CEO Andrew Olsen says despite the best efforts of MPI staff to help find MIQ beds for the approved operators, the indications now are that few, if any, will be available until March at the earliest for rural contractors.

“This will mean many of them will pass on the option to bring workers in. It’s just too late, too hard and too stressful for contractors who are working their guts out trying to help farmers get in crops and ensure animals can be fed.”

Andrew Olsen says his organisation and Federated Farmers, supported by MPI, have done everything they could to help contractors meet a crushing labour shortage.

“We understand and respect that the resurgence of another Covid variant and border entry changes have put the squeeze on MIQ. That said, those risks would have been part of the assessment when we had Ministerial approval just on a month ago to bring in the desperately needed 200 machinery operators.

“Now, rural contractors whose work is essential to food production and our export economy, find themselves towards the back of the MIQ queue.”

Andrew Olsen says getting MIQ space is like peeling an onion.

“It’s layer after layer and it brings tears of frustration for our members who are already working impossibly long hours and as yet have not even been able to lodge Expressions of Interest for staff positions which Ministers had approved to come in.”

RCNZ members seeking to bring in staff under the next Time Sensitive Travel Allocation need to submit to MPI by 19 January for endorsement. The application closes on 21 January 2022 for spaces in March and April.

Andrew Olsen says he’s still encouraging his members to make an application for a space in this allocation but it says it can be an onerous process.

“That’s especially so when rural contractors are flat tack and also facing the likely reality that any skilled machinery operators they might get in won’t arrive until March or April. Add two weeks MIQ space to that and much of the autumn harvest period will be over before they can get anyone behind a wheel.”

Andrew Olsen is calling on the Ministers of Immigration and Agriculture

and the Prime Minister’s Office to meet the urgency of the situation.

“We received approval December 12 and now more than a month on we’re looking at another two months before the first arrivals. It’s not good enough. The primary sector needs more support, now, and frankly the current situation our members find themselves in doesn’t cut it.”