Hub puts Kiwis at front of jobs line

Changes to work visa rules are set to give Kiwis even more preference for jobs working on Christchurch's rebuild.

Thousands of migrants are expected in Christchurch for the rebuild but it may be more difficult for unskilled newcomers to get jobs because of the changes.

Previously employers had to show only that a migrant could fill a vacancy. Now they must register it with the Government skills hub, which will search locally for workers, some of whom may be with Work and Income.

Immigration New Zealand says the policy, which comes into effect on January 28, will streamline the process. Some say it will create bottlenecks.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend, who has called for unskilled migrants to fill labour shortages, welcomed the emphasis on employing Canterbury and Kiwi workers first, but warned against a system that was "too dogmatic".

"It's just not cut and dried," he said.

"Certain people with certain requirements have certain expectations about being able to tap into labour that will best meet their requirements, and they should be able to do that without any artificial barriers in place."

The "connectivity" between employers and prospective employees had always been difficult, Townsend said.

"That's exemplified by people saying, 'I can't get skilled workers and I can't get unskilled workers', and then we have workers saying, 'I can't find work'."

Leighs Construction managing director Anthony Leighs "fully supported" the changes.

"I think that first and foremost the work should be done by New Zealanders," he said.

The company had recruited carpenters from the Philippines after finding too little local interest. The need for labour would only get stronger, he said.

"We are very, very early on and labour resources are already under demand."

Christchurch plumber Steve Gillon, of Gillon & Maher Plumbing, said the changes would help ensure tradespeople were properly qualified.

His company employed several Irish workers as plumbers, but they had only temporary New Zealand licences.

"My only concern with foreign plumbers is ... unqualified plumbers - people who are unregistered at New Zealand standards," he said.

Gillon said New Zealand plumbing standards were different to the rest of the world's and workers needed to have local knowledge.

Christchurch immigration consultant Mike Bell backed the changes but questioned if the hub would keep pace with applications.

"There's going to be an awful lot of requests going through that hub and what we hope is that it's fully resourced so it doesn't become a bottleneck in the system."

The introduction of labour-market testing in 2008 saw visa applications that had been processed in "as little as an hour" being delayed by up to 70 working days. The average was now about three days.

The existing system had "robust" measures to give Kiwi workers priority, he said.

Some big Christchurch employers this month called for more unskilled immigrants.

Spokesman Kim Bartlett said McDonald's struggled to find staff because many hospitality workers had fled the city.

A spokesman for Sanford said the fishing company desperately needed night-shift cleaners and factory process workers.

The Press