Queenstown will struggle to handle the summer tourism boom because of inflexible rules on hiring foreign workers, employers fear.
Local hoteliers’ spokesperson Penny Clark warns hotels may limit room availability till late in the day due to a shortage of housekeeping staff.
Hoteliers say Immigration New Zealand makes it unreasonably hard to employ and retain foreign staff in the belief they should be employing NZers – yet few Kiwis want to work in Queenstown.
Clark says immigration rules are “crazy” and “ridiculous”. For example, they’re forced to employ foreigners on six-month holiday visas for only three months.
“If the person wants to stay with you for the next three months, why can’t they?”
Mark Rose, general manager of The Rees, adds: “There seems to be a mindset at Immigration that we would rather employ foreigners but with the hoops we’ve got to jump through, why would we do that?
“It’s ridiculous that Tourism NZ is spending all this money trying to get people to NZ and we’re struggling to get people to serve them.”
Clark raised her concerns at the 2014 Tourism Industry Association summit in Wellington last week.
Clark says the response from Immigration has been “the usual platitudes” including claims employers exploit overseas workers.
“Immigration has to trust us a little bit that if we’ve got people in service in our hospitality industry looking after visitors, we are going to look after them to make sure they’re giving good service.”
Clark also says it’s “bloody ridiculous” that only 1000 Chinese are allowed working holiday visas in NZ and can’t work more than three months for an employer, given the importance of the Chinese tourism market and the language barrier.
Local Oaks Shores hotelier Nick Lambert says the issue’s “a complete nightmare, it’s diabolical”.
He’d love to employ Kiwis but out of 60 applicants for a job, typically only two or three might be NZers.
“Trying to get staff is really really difficult, it’s the bane of my life, probably.”
Lambert says there are just so many hoops to go through to employ foreigners.
“You’ve got to have the job lodged with WINZ, you’ve got to advertise the job, you’ve got to go through a whole process of phone interviews to show why the Kiwis aren’t suited for the job – it’s just hours and hours that we don’t have”.
Queenstown Rafting boss Tim Barke adds: “If you’ve tried to find a Kiwi and you can’t and you end up having to hire a foreigner, you invest a lot of money in training them up and you ideally want to keep them.”
However if their visa needs to be extended, he has to go through the same process again – a waste of everyone’s time.
Barke, who also spoke at last week’s summit, says an Immigration requirement that foreigners work a minimum 30 hours a week discriminates against Kiwi workers, especially in quieter times.
“Effectively they’re forcing us to give them priority ahead of Kiwis which is completely counter-intuitive.”