4 December 2013
Foreign workers vital to industry – Rural Contractors
Rural Contractors New Zealand (RCNZ) says employing overseas workers is an important and necessary part of rural
RCNZ president Steve Levet was commenting on recent claims made by Labour leader David Cunliffe about foreign labour
being used in the horticulture sector at the expense of local workers.
“Any similar claim made about rural contracting is neither accurate nor fair,” he explains. “Nobody I know turns away a
Kiwi who is willing to work.”
But Mr Levet admits there is a gap between rural contractors’ needs for trained agricultural machinery operators and
unemployed New Zealanders who could do that work. Part of this shortfall is met by bringing in skilled operators from
“Contracting is a seasonal business and one that uses sophisticated machinery that requires technical skill to operate
productively. Many contractors would like to employ New Zealanders but by the time they have trained them, the season is
“In many cases, the operator does not return the next year so the contractor has lost the investment they have made in
Mr Levet says political parties of all persuasions need to understand that a dire shortage of suitable agricultural
machinery operators means rural contractors rely on employing skilled people from overseas on a temporary basis each
season and have done so for many years.
He adds that many of the applicants Work and Income NZ (WINZ) tries to fill these vacancies with; either do not have the
right skill-set and/or attitude to be successful.
“We are talking about operating highly technical and very expensive pieces machinery. It is unrealistic, unsafe and
impractical to expect unemployed people to walk off the street and successfully take up these positions.”
However, contractors are looking at better ways to work with WINZ to better source and train operators here. He adds
that a recent open day held by Rural Contractors NZ members in Southland offers a good model on how this could be done.
Mr Levet says the seasonal nature of rural contracting means workers with the right skills are needed for only 3-4
months each year and, understandably, this kind of short-term employment does not often suit locals who are looking for
“The rules around employing temporary, skilled people from overseas prepared to work for 3-4 months each year need to be
simplified as do the regulations restricting people who have previously worked here in past seasons coming back to New
Zealand to work,” Mr Levet adds. “This is vital to ensure that the primary sector continues to be the economic driver
for New Zealand”