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By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Tourism and hospo businesses have been given a lifeline by the government.

Yesterday, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi finally broke his silence on the worker shortage crisis, announcing ‘‘rebalanced’’ immigration settings and a temporary exemption for tourism and hospo operators from paying the $27.76 median wage to
recruit migrants on the new ‘accredited employer work visa’.

Mountain Scene reported last week the hospo and accommodation sectors, in particular, are on their knees, battling to find staff, despite increased pay — wage inflation in the region’s about 9%, double the national wage inflation rate for the past year.

Faafoi announced yesterday the exemption means a lower wage threshold of $25 an hour will apply for tourism and hospo businesses until next April.

That follows the recent $27 an hour border exception granted around certain snow industry roles.

He says New Zealand can’t return to pre-pandemic trends ‘‘that saw us overly-reliant on growing numbers of lower-skilled workers and resulted in the increased exploitation of migrants’’.

However, the government’s recognised that’s ‘‘more challenging’’ for some sectors —
particularly tourism and hospo.

That in mind, they’ll also offer other options for about 20,000 people on visas expiring before 2023.

Those people will either be granted a six-month extension to their existing visa, or given a new two-year visa, with open work conditions, to ‘‘keep the skills we need within the country’’, Faafoi says.

Tourism Minister deserves ‘tip of the hat’

Queenstown mayor Jim Boult says yesterday was a ‘‘chuck your hat in the air day’’.

‘‘It’s a significant move — unfortunately it comes too late for the ski season, but, certainly, for the coming summer season, [it’s] very, very positive.

‘‘I welcome it and I do think it’ll make a difference to the ability to get people and for businesses to shoulder the cost of employment.’’

 

Boult pays particular credit to Tourism Minister Stuart Nash who ‘‘worked very hard to get his Cabinet colleagues across the line on this’’.

‘‘He deserves a tip of the hat for that.’’

Hilton Queenstown GM Chris Ehmann says it’s ‘‘fantastic news’’, which will provide some
relief for Queenstown.

However, he, too, says it comes too late to help businesses this winter.

‘‘We can’t even get people in on visas until almost July — first we have to get accreditation and once that’s in we can start applying for visas, so I can’t imagine we’re
going to be getting them in for the winter season.

‘‘With regard to the working holiday visa, let’s be honest, you’re normally cashed-up when you start so you can do a holiday.

‘‘I’d probably spend the first part of my holiday skiing, uninterrupted, and then probably
start looking for a job in September.’’

Bigger issue than just Queenstown: Hilton hotel GM Chris Ehmann

The new options for people whose visas are expiring in the next seven months were also helpful, he says, but he remains concerned about workforce retention, particularly in entry-level positions, and the long-term effects of a high staff turnover.

‘‘I see this as a far greater issue.

‘‘It’s every industry that grows people from an entry-level to a career, whether that be
hospitality, building, retail, all of those industries start people [at entry-level].

‘‘I started as a laundry sorter.

‘‘If we just leave that to people that aren’t actually staying in NZ that means we’re going to lose the whole skillset … how will we ever develop [kitchenhands] into chefs if they don’t hang around?’’

Businesses will have to make tough calls

Chamber of Commerce CEO Ruth Stokes says while businesses will be grateful for the exemption, it’ll mean some tough decisions for small business owners.

She suggests given the prescriptive pay rates for migrant workers, either NZ will see a return to the days where Kiwis were paid less than overseas workers, or fair pay agreements will see a 30% increase in minimum wage, currently set at $21.20 an hour.

Tough decisions coming: Queenstown Chamber of Commerce boss Ruth Stokes

‘‘April, 2023, is not a long time,’’ Stokes says.

‘‘While it’s a window of affordability, there remains the issue of worker availability, and our relative attractiveness in the global market.

‘‘Our businesses have been increasing wages significantly, but it has yet to translate into many more people.’’

Queenstown fish and chip vendor Anna Arndt, who owns Erik’s Fish & Chips, says the government’s made a positive move.

‘‘But it is still not feasible to be paying unqualified young travellers $25 per hour to work in hospitality and tourism businesses’’ when they can’t attract Kiwis.

‘‘It is important to understand if we pay them $25, all the other staff we have will have to be paid more.

‘‘Just to cover costs, we will have to increase our prices by too much for our customers, with all the other extra costs we now have such as 10 days’ sick leave, another public holiday [Matariki, on June 24] … plus very high inflation from supply chain issues from Covid.’’

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz