By Chris Lewis, Federated Farmers national board member
With the developing and serious workforce shortage on dairy farms top of mind, Federated Farmers and DairyNZ have combined to put the case to government for 500 migrant staff to be allowed into New Zealand to head off critical animal and human welfare issues.
A survey conducted by our two organisations earlier this month drew 1150 responses in just one week. Results told us that 49% of dairy farmer respondents were currently short-staffed; 46% had vacancies unfilled for more than three months and nearly a quarter had been unable to fill a gap on their team for more than six months.
We’ve strongly made the point that we share the government’s desire to have more Kiwis working in our industry, given it is part of the backbone of our economy and New Zealanders’ standard of living. Our sector has launched Go Dairy and Good Boss campaigns; we have a comprehensive Sustainable Dairying: Workplace Action Plan and many farmers have made changes to rosters and other work conditions to retain staff and attract newcomers. The March survey showed 65% had increased salaries and wages, 42% had adjusted rosters to allow more time off and 36% were boosting efforts on upskilling and training staff.
But we’ve also advised the government the simple fact is mid to high-skilled dairy farm roles must be undertaken by suitably skilled people who have the necessary ability, knowledge and competence to ensure good animal welfare and health outcomes, safe plant and machinery operation and pasture and environmental system management. This typically requires a minimum of 2-3 years’ experience – longer for more senior roles. New Zealanders from outside the sector or in lower-skilled roles (dairy farm assistants) cannot reach this level of competence in time for the upcoming 2021/22 season.
We need more migrant workers if we’re to maintain production and the export revenue New Zealand depends upon. The proposed trans-Tasman travel bubble is tipped to ease pressure on MIQ (managed isolation quarantine) places. This may open wider the window of opportunity for the government to meet our sector’s pressing need.
Meanwhile, take a bow all you farmers out there who are getting on with the workload short-staffed, making all efforts to retain existing staff, and taking a close look at pay, rosters, accommodation, training and all the rest to make a career in dairy even more attractive and fulfilling.