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Unless farmers and growers start to develop long term strategies for developing their own workforces, labour shortage issues will continue in the rural sector, says Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly.
She was commenting today on reports short-staffed dairy farmers were being exploited by southern farm workers demanding "ridiculous" wages.
Peter Macfarlane, director of dairy farm workers recruitment company Greener Horizons Workforce, said some southern farm workers with little experience were demanding up to $50,000 a year plus free accommodation from farmers struggling to attract staff.
This was about $15,000 a year more than would normally be paid, Mr Macfarlane told the Southland Times.
The farm workers, who industry sources said worked between 50 and 60 hours a week on average over a year, were attempting to cash in on the booming dairy industry and record dairy payouts.
"There are people out there exploiting the situation because of the staff shortage," Mr Macfarlane said.
"They are asking to get paid way more than their skills and ability deserve."
But Ms Kelly said the admission by Southland dairy farmers that they were paying New Zealanders $35,000 per year for 50 to 60 hour weeks was shameful, particularly at a time when they were pressuring the Government to relax immigration requirements.
Yesterday wine growers were also complaining about the cost of labour while harvesting record crops, she said.
"The dairy farmers are openly admitting that New Zealand workers are available but that they turn them away because they are expecting $50,000 per year - hardly great riches for the long hours and hard work expected of them.
"We are also concerned to hear that it is apparently easy for farmers to replace these workers by employing foreign workers simply to reduce wages.
"Our immigration policies exist to fill genuine skills shortages, not to replace New Zealanders seeking work and not to cut wages and conditions."
Ms Kelly said New Zealanders were paying huge prices for dairy products and farmers were making more money than ever.
"It is an irony that farmers are happy to accept market demand as an excuse for higher and higher costs to consumers but don't accept it when it has the same impact on labour costs."
Ms Kelly said it was time some of this money was committed to building a sustainable industry, including decent wages, training, prospects and conditions of work.