Queenstown Inc fears the government’s first’ immigration policy, announced this week, will starve the resort of desperately-needed migrant labour a government spokesman has moved to allay those concerns.
Local accommodation and hospo operators have long relied on foreign workers to fill the majority of positions in hotels, restaurants and the like.
And many are struggling to get staff right now with closed borders preventing the usual flow of workers from overseas.
Mayor Jim Boult, speaking in Melbourne yesterday while on a Destination Queenstown roadshow, says: “I understand the government’s initiative, and everybody is in favour of Kiwis getting jobs.
“However, the very harsh reality is those hoteliers who have been making comments are correct.
“Unfortunately, Kiwis generally aren’t taking those sorts of jobs, and the reality is the industry needs those migrant workers.
“And I’m very fearful of a future without migrant workers, because we won’t have enough staff, and that could lead to lower standards of service.
“I think it’s a major issue facing the district, and I intend taking it up with the government when I get back.”
Hilton general manager Chris Ehmann says every country in the world has migrant labour.
“If you’re living a long time in a developed country, there’s certain positions you don’t really want to do any more.
“You don’t want to do shift work, you don’t want to work in the weekends. It’s not necessarily to do with pay.”
Ehmann says he’s talked to hoteliers who won’t be able to open all their rooms if they can’t get staff.
Republic Hospitality general manager Tracy Pool, who oversees 10 bars and restaurants, says Queenstown couldn’t have had its pre-Covid tourism boom without migrant workers.
She believes the government feels her industry would attract more Kiwis if it paid staff more, “but it’s not about wages, Kiwis just don’t want to do the job”.
She says almost all her company’s staff are paid more than the minimum wage.
“We also have incentives, we give free food, we’ve really bent over backwards to retain them.”
Pool questions whether Kiwis would come to Queenstown to wash dishes.
“It’s not an aspirational job but somebody’s got to do it.
“But you can’t pay someone $25 or $30 [an hour] to clean the dishes, what are you paying the skilled person who’s a chef or a maitre d’?”
At that rate they’d be charging $30 for a burger, she suggests.
Pool points out that not infrequently, a migrant worker will start with a lowly job then, through on-the-job training, work their way up “and eventually get skilled enough they can apply for their residency”.
The prospect of the migrant-worker tap being turned off is “extremely concerning”.
However, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says “nobody’s saying the future won’t have migrant employees in it”, referring Mountain Scene to Monday’s speech.
Standing in for Faafoi, Tourism Minister and Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash said: “Let me be clear, there will still be the need for migrant workers where there are no Kiwis to fill jobs.”
The spokesman says: “It’s not saying migrant workers won’t be an option, it’s just saying where we can, we’re looking to shift the balance and open up opportunities for New Zealanders.
“Now, where sectors can say, ‘look, this is what we’re doing to attract New Zealanders in to jobs and it’s just not working’, it’s reasonable to expect there will be allowances made.”
● Faafoi’s spokesman confirms his office has now received mayor Jim Boult’s invitation for him to visit Queenstown after the mayor re-sent an earlier invite that was apparently lost in the mail.