New Zealand must pull out stops to fix labour shortage

Botany MP and National Party leader Christopher Luxon says New Zealand is facing a dire labour shortage. Times photo Wayne Martin
  • By Christopher Luxon, MP for Botany and Leader of the Opposition

Last week I met with local business leaders at a brilliant morning tea event organised by the Greater East Tamaki Business Association.

We talked about issues that businesses are facing, such as the cost of living crisis and surging inflation – but it quickly become apparent that there are even more challenges that are keeping everyday businesses from getting ahead.

New Zealand is experiencing massive labour shortages – the worst in 40 years. Our local businesses are feeling it but it’s happening all across the country. You can’t go into a café or supermarket without seeing a ‘Help Wanted’ sign displayed.

But it doesn’t matter which sector of the economy you go to today, they are all short of workers, be they healthcare, welders, seasonal farm workers, factory workers or retail staff.

One of the main causes is that the Government has not prepared Immigration New Zealand to process visas for the border reopening. Immigration New Zealand’s website states that seven months is the current processing time for an onshore visitor visa, five months for a work visa and three months for a student visa.

The Immigration Minister’s lack of action has directly affected our struggling businesses being able to attract skilled workers and is prolonging the pain of families who have been separated from their loved ones for the last two years.

While the country is forced to wait for immigration to catch up, a temporary solution to help the labour shortage is with working holiday makers. These are young people aged 18-30 years who travel to New Zealand to work for up to 12 or 23 months on a Working Holiday Visa – the only visa we currently have to get workers into the country.

Global competition for these workers is intense. Australia, who we directly compete with for labour, is spending millions on marketing to aggressively target these workers to their shores, while also offering a raft of other incentives like a visa application fee refund, unrestricted work rights and supplementary visas.

Yet our Immigration Minister is not trying to incentivise these workers at all and we risk missing out on what is already a small pool of workers to our Australian cousins.

As I have said many times before, I want to lead an Opposition that not only opposes, but also proposes new ideas.

The other week, National’s Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford proposed a few changes to the visa to make New Zealand a more attractive place to these working holiday makers.

Some of the changes are no-brainers, such as raising the visa age limit to 35 years or immediately opening applications to all countries who we offer the Working Holidays Visa to, which would all help to increase the number of potential workers.

Erica also proposed refunding the visa application fee for those who arrive before June 21, 2022 and to allow people who have been to New Zealand on this visa before, the ability to apply again.

These incentives will attract more working holiday-makers and accelerate their arrival into New Zealand at a time when competition for these workers is intense. They will also help address the crippling labour shortages damaging many of our sectors reliant on these workers.

We must do what we can to help fix the labour shortage issue that businesses around the country are facing, while we wait for a Government whose lack of action is only delaying our economic recovery.