Anne Lee

Farmers can start putting systems in place now that will help them become premium accredited employers under likely changes to government rules on employing migrant staff.

DairyNZ people team leader Jane Muir says the new rules are expected to be announced in July.

DairyNZ had submitted earlier this year on the proposed changes which include a shift to a more employer-focused process.

Under the proposal no employer will be able to take on migrant staff unless the employer is accredited and for farmers that could mean standard or premium accreditation.

All employers should be able to achieve standard accreditation as it is based on meeting minimum employment standards, Jane says.

“You will have to show you pay above the minimum wage, have records of holiday and sick leave, have employment agreements and health and safety plans. Everyone should be doing this now, it’s compliance,” she says.

‘You want to be able to show how you’re helping them be absorbed into New Zealand life.’

Employers can already apply to be accredited by Immigration New Zealand and farmers who haven’t already done so who intend employing migrant staff are being advised to get in ahead of what’s expected to be a surge of applications when the requirement becomes mandatory.

Premium employer accreditation will be required for any employer seeking to take on more than six migrant staff in any one year.

Jane says farmers seeking premium accreditation will have to show they go beyond minimum standards.

Their employment agreements, records for hours worked, leave and wages will all need to be sighted and practices such as training programmes, health and safety plans be reviewed.

DairyNZ supports the shift to accreditation and having both a standard and premium level because it is in line with the dairy industry’s strategy on employment practices that attract and retain staff, she says.

There would be advantages in being premium accredited with visas issued for longer durations – potentially up to three years instead of one.

DairyNZ had noted that smaller farms should not have to comply with the requirement to show they’re training Kiwi staff if they are only employing a migrant staff member.

“You can’t train a non-existent staff member.”

To prepare for the changes farmers should start using a payroll system because it provides the proof they are meeting leave and minimum wage requirements.

Health and safety plans must be documented and show how language barriers are managed for migrant safety.

Farmers will need evidence to show how migrant staff are made aware of hazards and risks and how they are enabled to manage and identify risks themselves and report them.

Farmers will also have to show evidence of how they train and upskill New Zealanders so it’s important to have a training plan and keep records of training events and activities.

They could include both informal and formal training events.

Photographs of staff members being trained onfarm and records of attendance at discussion groups, DairyNZ events and training events run by other rural professionals such as vets should all be kept as evidence.

Pastoral care is a requirement under accreditation standards and farmers will need to be able to show how they provide that.

Jane says it should include some evidence of efforts made to introduce migrant staff to wider community groups and activities such as local clubs, Young Farmers clubs, school committees and sports groups.

“You want to be able to show how you’re helping them be absorbed into New Zealand life.”

Immigration New Zealand had good brochures on settling migrants into NZ and in some communities, groups have come together to provide welcome packs and support information on how to become registered with a local doctor for instance.

The proposed changes suggested evidence should be supplied every 12 months to support accreditation but DairyNZ said that was too frequent and should happen every two years for standard accreditation and every three years for premium accredited employers.

Costs are expected to shift from migrant employees to employers with employers likely to pay close to $2000, mainly as a result of the requirement for accreditation.

Jane says DairyNZ submitted strongly for longer visa durations for lower skill level work visas.

“That was our strongest submission. We said please stop making us do this every year (re-advertise for New Zealand staff) and the three-year (maximum) duration is too unstable and unfair on our migrant employees.”

Jane says while DairyNZ submitted that it wasn’t against a stand down period as such it wanted that to come after six years.

“It’s a horrible scenario when they are churning around in this system and can’t get residency. New Zealand is taking advantage of migrants by doing that.

“By the end of six years they should be at a mid-skill level and at that level the rules start changing so we need to be upskilling and training our migrant staff to get them there.”

There are three gates to get through to employ migrant staff.

The first is being accredited, the second is a job check to prove a genuine job is available and the third is for the employer to check the migrant has the right skills for the job.

Under the proposal highly skilled jobs won’t require the employer to carry out a labour market test and the migrant will get an automatic pathway to residency after two years.

But this is unlikely to apply to migrant dairy staff as the wage threshold for a highly skilled job will be too high.

If the employer is standard accredited the wage will need to be 200% of the NZ median wage, making the migrant wage $50/hour.

If premium accredited it would 150% of the median wage – $37.50/hour.

If the person was working a 50-hour week the annual wage would be $97,000.

DairyNZ supported a difference between standard and premium accredited but said 150% was too high and wanted it lowered to 125% which makes the wage rate $31.25/hour.

The national immediate skills shortage list would be replaced by a regional skills shortage list under the proposal.

In regions such as Canterbury and Southland where migrant employment is high due to the shortage of available NZ workers this change is expected to be an advantage.

DairyNZ supported the change.

The Government has also indicated it wants to negotiate sector agreements with dairy one of these.

In return for agreeing to negotiate, the sector could expect some advantageous conditions but it may also have to give something up too.

DairyNZ submitted that it wanted more clarity on this – it could see some benefits but was also not comfortable with talk that the negotiations may include wages and conditions.

“We’re not prepared to negotiate that on farmers’ behalf.”