Dairy sector calls for 1500 international staff in 2022

3 November 2021

Dairy sector partners are calling on the Government to allow 1500 international dairy workers into New Zealand in 2022 to help meet the sector’s workforce shortfall, if borders continue to remain closed.

DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and Dairy Women’s Network have asked for changes to be made to class exceptions by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

Along with the request for additional international workers, the organisations also support international farm workers being able to quarantine in separate housing on-farm, if fully vaccinated and following Covid-19 safety requirements while in quarantine.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle says difficulty in obtaining MIQ space has been a key frustration which has hindered the arrival of workers granted dairy class exception visas this year.

“Severely limiting the dairy sector’s access to international labour is creating unacceptable levels of stress for farmers and their teams, which presents some risks to animal welfare and limits dairy’s future productivity at a time when our contribution to New Zealand is critical for our wider economy,” says Dr Mackle.

In a recent joint DairyNZ and Federated Farmers survey half of dairy farmers reported they were short-staffed.

The request comes as New Zealand unemployment rates fell to 3.4 percent to equal the lowest level seen since 2007, shortly before the worst effects of the Global Financial Crisis hit the economy.

“We are seeing many core sectors facing challenges filling vacancies due to low unemployment rates. We know from our recent farmer survey that 87 percent of farmers made changes to appeal to local employees, with farmers reporting improved rosters, reduced hours, flexible milking schedules and increased salaries. However, we still have a significant workforce shortage and that’s why we need to reintroduce international staff to help fill some of the gap.”

Federated Farmers immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis says farmers need certainty they will be able to access international workers for next year.

“The border processes Government used this year were hugely frustrating for farmers. If our borders do remain closed, we need processes streamlined to provide farmers with confidence they can recruit staff and get them into New Zealand much faster.”

“The Government needs to commit to acting now so we can access the people we need for next season.”

Dairy Women’s Network chief executive Jules Benton says the current workforce shortage is creating high levels of stress for farming families.

“Farming families need assurance they will be able to fill vacant roles. Levels of physical and mental fatigue are not sustainable and as a sector we are hugely concerned about the wellbeing of our people.”

“Farmers are uniquely positioned to be able to offer new international workers safe home quarantine in rural areas, taking the pressure off MIQ facilities.”

The organisations are seeking a meeting with Minister O’Connor as they call for border exception applications to be open by February 2022, so farmers have staff on farm before the calving season starts in July.

DairyNZ has a range of initiatives underway to attract new people into dairy, including a GoDairy programme focused on attracting capable New Zealanders into dairy.

Media contact

Allanah Jarman
Senior media specialist
021 240 6614
allanah.jarman@dairynz.co.nz