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It's a balance: Finance Minister Grant Robertson, right, reacts to Nationa''s finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith during The ASB Great Debate on Tuesday night

By MATTHEW MCKEW

A looming disaster faces Queenstown as working holiday visas expire and the government
pushes the remaining foreign workers into the fields, with golden ticket extensions for horticulture.

Unemployment may have leapt up in the resort, but bars and restaurant owners fear the rapidly-dissipating foreign labour pool will spell disaster for their teetering businesses.

Mountain Scene’s discovered 6707 working holiday visas across New Zealand are set to expire by the end of November, as extensions offered during lockdown come to an end.

Mike Burgess, owner of Winnies and other popular night spots in the resort, says the government needs to address the issue.

‘‘If we rely on foreigners to staff Queenstown businesses, which I know we do, and we don’t have a ready supply of foreign workers, how the hell are we going to staff our businesses?

‘‘They are expecting to send these people home.

‘‘And then what?’’

Burgess says 95% of his remaining 70 staff are overseas workers.

He believes until there’s evidence young New Zealanders are arriving to take jobs, the government needs to act.

‘‘The majority of Queenstown is foreigners, how many Kiwis work in Queenstown?

‘‘Not a great deal, not in tourism and hospitality anyway.’’

Those remaining in the resort could move away to find horticultural jobs, after the government announced supplementary seasonal employment visas on Monday.

Those on working holidays expiring between October and March will get an automatic
extension if they bag a job picking fruit.

In two weeks, on October 10, Clutha District Council is to hold a ‘jobbortunies’ event at
Queenstown Memorial Centre where growers will look to use this new carrot to lure
foreign workers away in exchange for a longer stay.

Local Chamber of Commerce boss Craig Douglas questions what’ll happen without fresh
faces arriving.

‘‘Queenstown has always had a regular replacement of working holiday visa people coming through, and obviously we haven’t had anybody entering the district since the end of March.

‘‘They’ve picked an industry that certainly needs help, but it’s not alone in facing issues, and Queenstown hospitality is facing many of those same challenges.’’

He says it’s unlikely wages will rise to attract New Zealand workers because businesses no
longer have the profit margins to balance extra costs.

‘‘Rather than push wages up, we’ll probably see businesses fail,’’ he warns.

The problem was raised at the Queenstown Memorial Centre on Tuesday night during The
ASB Great Debate, with a member of the public seeking reassurance from Finance Minister
Grant Robertson.

‘‘I’m a local business owner, how’d you envisage staffing a restaurant when the working
holiday visas are all gone?’’

The minister initially replied by talking about essential skills visas, but the man stressed he
wanted to know specifically about working holiday visas.

Robertson then said a large number of Kiwis had lost their jobs and had to be supported back into work.

‘‘What we’ve got to do is make sure we support those people to be redeployed into other areas and into other sectors.

‘‘I absolutely accept the fact we’ve got people here, some of whom have lived here in this
community on work visas for a very long time, we have to respect and support those people to stay here and use the people on working holiday visas here, it is a balance.’’

Scene pressed the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on the question
yesterday, but it couldn’t respond by deadline.

matthew.mckew@scene.co.nz