Worker shortage fears

Catastrophic events are in store for short-staffed dairy farmers without government intervention, a Southland farmer says.

A letter, born from a Southland Federated Farmers meeting where concerns over farmers not having enough staff were voiced, was sent to Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor two weeks ago.

It details how they are faced with a major shortage of experienced staff, and that they needed lower skilled workers in the dairy sector to allow the industry to function.

"It is time for your Government to take action and allow migrant workers in to this country to work in the dairy industry."

A DairyNZ and Federated Farmers survey estimated there were about 1800 unfilled positions in Southland.

The letter’s author, Southland Federated Farmers sharemilker chairman Jason Herrick, said they had exhausted all avenues to employ New Zealanders to fill the gap.

He explained that with no change it would not just be a human welfare issue, it could become an animal welfare one too.

These stresses were compounded by winter grazing regulation anxieties, as well as attractive offers from Canada and Australia, where a minimum salary of $75,000 was on offer.

"I’m really feeling sorry for them with the whole situation that’s coming. I really think there will be some catastrophic events if the Government doesn’t change their ways."

It was hoped managed isolation and quarantine spare spaces could be allocated to fill those vacancies.

Since he had written his, a letter-writing campaign had begun of hundreds of pleas from those in the industry asking for help.

One, written by Michael Prankerd, was shared to social media and detailed the stress southern farmers were under.

"There has been a sharp rise in suicide on farms throughout the South Island in the last 12 months and many of these have been farm assistants, not employers."

The campaign would conclude at the end of the week.

The letters were also sent to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.

A spokesman for Mr Faafoi said the minister was aware of concerns raised in the dairy sector and had been discussing the issue with his colleague, Mr O’Connor, who had been liaising with the dairy sector to understand the exact scale of the problem.

"That information is feeding into work to determine what can be done to address concerns within the constraints of current Covid border restrictions."

He said the Government was looking to have more to say in the next few weeks.

Mr Herrick had not yet received a response to his letter and said he would send another.

Although the Otago Daily Times approached him last week, Mr O’Connor did not provide comment or a response.


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