17 Jun 2009

Downturn hits migrant farm workers

11:19 am on 17 June 2009

The economic downturn is starting to hit overseas farm workers who were brought in to fill labour shortages.

The Rural Women New Zealand organisation says as the recession deepens, there are reports of immigrant farm workers losing their jobs or not being able to get their work visas renewed.

That is despite a continuing shortage of skilled labour, especially on dairy farms, and the agriculture sector's increased reliance on imported workers.

Immigration New Zealand issued more than 1,600 work visas and permits during the past year for people to work on beef and dairy farms, compared with fewer than a thousand the previous year.

But Rural Women's Social issues spokesperson, Kerry Maw, says some of those workers are now losing their jobs and work permits.

Ms Maw says rural communities with immigrant staff brought in to ease labour shortages need to be more supportive to make sure they're not left to fend for themselves.

Meanwhile, Federated Farmers says it has been able to persuade Immigration New Zealand to keep positions such as assistant herd manager and assistant farm manager on the skills shortage priority list.

It says despite growing unemployment, there is still a shortage of experienced farm staff that the local workforce cannot fill.