Sector agreement greeted warmly

The Alliance Group is hopeful the Government’s new sector agreement for the meat processing industry will help address labour shortages in Oamaru.

Alliance Group manufacturing general manager Willie Wiese said labour shortages were an ongoing issue for the co-operative, and other meat-processing companies.

‘‘We welcome the recent announcement of a sector agreement for the meat processing industry,’’ Mr Wiese said.

The Government’s new sector agreement with the industry includes access to migrant workers for entry-level red meat processing roles at $24 per hour, with a cap on the number of visas.

Migrants taking up these places will receive seven›month visas, and the wage threshold will be updated each year to reflect changes in the median wage, to maintain its relative value.

Rural communities, like those in North Otago, had low unemployment rates, and in those communities, the company experienced staff shortages across all areas of its processing operations, Mr Wiese said.

“While our preference is always to employ people from our local communities, we have had to employ people from overseas in recent years to supplement our local workforce.

“These overseas employees represent a very small proportion of our total workforce, but support the jobs of hard› working Kiwis in our plants, and mean we can capture greater value from our livestock.’’

Employing people from local communities, supported by a limited number of overseas migrants, helped ensure the Alliance Group could operate its plants to the desired capacity for the benefit of farmers and the local economy, he said.

Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said labour shortages had been a significant issue for the meat processing sector across New Zealand for some time.

‘‘So this agreement is a welcome boost to our own domestic recruitment efforts.”

Without sufficient employees, processors could not run plants to the desired capacity, fully process all products, and capture the maximum value, Ms Karapeeva said.

‘‘For example, the shortage of skilled knife people means that a reduced number of cuts can be prepared for the high›value chilled market and the product is exported as frozen at a lower value.’’

By-products are also sent to rendering instead of further processing.

‘‘This deprives processors and farmers of revenue, but also rural communities and the New Zealand economy of income.”

The industry was committed to training and employing New Zealanders first, and worked closely with the Ministry for Social Development and regional agencies to recruit people from local communities to work in plants.

“However, we struggle to fill roles and the meat processing sector is about 2000 employees short at present. That means we must recruit a limited number of people from overseas. Less than 5% of our workforce is from abroad,’’ she said.

‘‘Ultimately, labour shortages mean fewer shifts and training opportunities for New Zealand workers.’’

The Meat Industry Association would be seeking assurances any visas for overseas migrants would be processed without undue delay, Ms Karapeeva said.