28 Jul 2015

Immigration policy 'won't be game changer'

7:35 am on 28 July 2015

A family owned meat processing plant in north Canterbury, which is struggling to find and keep staff, says new immigration policies will help, but they won't be a game changer.

Harris Meats

Nolton Laing boning out beef. Photo: Supplied

A fifth generation butcher, Bryan Harris and his brother Nick, own Harris Meats in Cheviot.

Bryan Harris says growing their business is virtually impossible because they cannot find enough labour locally.

Prime Minister John Key announced plans to get skilled migrants moving south, rather than simply setting up in Auckland.

From November, those who have been offered a job outside Auckland will be awarded higher bonus points when applying for residency, however, they need to commit to the regions for 12 months.

But Mr Harris does not think the new policies will bring change because it can be difficult to attract people to small country districts.

"Back in the early days we only employed two or three people and currently now we employ 45 people, we have a customer base from Christchurch to Nelson and everywhere in between."

The company employs 10 percent of Cheviot's population - roughly 445 people.

Managing Director Bryan Harris spends a lot of time on the floor himself due to the shortage of staff.

Managing Director Bryan Harris spends a lot of time on the floor himself due to the shortage of staff. Photo: Supplied

"The people we're employing now, we have six or seven come up from Amberley each day, we've got four Filipinos currently working with us at the moment and we've got two more coming.

"The bulk of all the people that work for us now, we bring into the district.

"We own or rent about eight houses in the town and out in the country here, so that we provide housing for them so our workers don't have to pay bonds, so we're doing everything we possibly can to attract people to come here."

But he said attracting people and keeping them in Cheviot was hard, because of the size of the town and a lack of job opportunities for people's partners.

He said the company could easily employ 15 to 20 more people with the amount of work on offer, but he says finding those people is the single biggest challenge.

"We have opportunities put in front of us where we have more work that we could do, but we often can't do it because of the fact we don't have enough labour.

"I manage Harris Meats, but I spend a lot of time myself on the knives because we just constantly haven't got enough people."

He said they were looking to immigrants to fill the gaps.

One of our older workers, Peter Jordon, on the slaughter floor.

One of our older workers, Peter Jordon, on the slaughter floor. Photo: Supplied

"In our industry now they're not queuing up to do this type of work so we've gone to the Philippines and we're also now looking at going to Samoa in the quota system.

"The reason we've gone there is because of the fact of the quota system, we can get workers from there, the Samoan people have worked in the meat previously, I mean it's not an absolute shoe in that it's going to work for us but we have to exhaust all avenues, and they're big strong people."

Mr Harris said the lack of labour would not force the business to go under, but he said it was a day-to-day challenge.

"If you're having a really bad day you sort of contemplate your future, but I am very concerned going forward where we are going to find our labour locally, or in New Zealand."

Harris Meats

Photo: Supplied