Farm recruiter backs PM's claims around drugged up Kiwi workers
A Hamilton-based farm recruitment agency is backing Prime Minister Bill English's claims that Kiwi workers' inability to pass drug tests are why overseas workers are needed.
Cross Country Recruitment managing director Ben De'Ath said that since December 4, 2016, 21 individual farm owners have contacted him seeking new staff because they have had to instantly dismiss staff due to failed drug tests for methamphetamine or cannabis.
Three-quarters of these farm owners were in Waikato and the rest were in the Central Plateau. These farmers were now short staffed purely because of illegal drugs, he said.
De'Ath said his company started to record why vacancies were arising in December because it helped make a case to Immigration New Zealand for foreign workers on behalf of farm owners.
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In one extreme case, a staff member threatened to kill his employer after he was dismissed following a positive test.
"They had to involve the police to get the man off-site and there was a 24-hour period where the farmer was scared to leave his house," he said.
In another case, thousands of dollars of farm equipment went missing after the employee was dismissed.
The police recovered some of the stolen equipment and the farm owner was left was a huge clean up bill to decontaminate the house of methamphetamine.
He estimated anecdotally that last year, there were at least three to four vacancies arising monthly in the farming industry because of drug use.
"I think what the Prime Minister has said is very factual."
On February 27, English said several business owners a week complained about their problems getting Kiwi workers to pass a drug test.
The comment was slammed by opposition parties, unions and the New Zealand Drug Foundation.
De'Ath also questioned data from the Ministry for Social Development, which showed that while there were 31,791 referrals for drug testing, there were only 55 drug-related sanctions during the same period – just a 0.17 per cent fail rate. The data does not cover non-beneficiaries who may be required to take drug tests as part of their employment.
"I hope the MSD data is true, I hope that unemployed people cannot afford drugs, but that data is biased from what I am seeing."
De'Ath stressed that the vast majority of dairy farm vacancies were due to the industry's expansion and the remoteness of these farms made it a challenge for the industry to find staff.
But drugs were still a big issue for a minority of people in the industry.
He feared those farmers affected would be ignored because of people claiming the problem was not as bad as English had said.
Waikato Federated Farmers president Chris Lewis said the region's farmers have had issues with drug use in the workplace.
It was an issue that often went unseen on farms and the organisation ran meetings last year on how to recognise drugs in the workplace, which were attended by 20-30 people.
"The farmers there all had stories to tell," he said.
Farmers took their employment obligations and workplace safety obligations seriously and took a tough stance on drugs in the workplace, Lewis said.