Unskilled migrants 'not answer'

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 08/01/2013

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"Opening the floodgates" to unskilled immigrants is not the way to fill the growing numbers of job vacancies for Christchurch's rebuild, employment experts say.

The comments come after The Press yesterday reported calls from some Christchurch employers to let unskilled overseas workers into New Zealand to do jobs they could not find local staff for.

Coverstaff Christchurch sales and marketing director Clive Murden said few workers were available, but "you can't just open the floodgates".

Relaxing visa requirements or letting more people into the country was not the answer, he said, because much of the labour shortage was in skilled work.


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"You can't just take somebody and put them on a building site. When you're bringing people in you need to know they have some experience."

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said it was important to use local workers, but the scale of the city's rebuild meant companies would need to bring in people from overseas.

"The resource needed is significant and, of course, unskilled immigrants will be a part of that."

Townsend believed the rebuild would create worker shortages in all industries, and the impact would be felt across the country as people moved to Christchurch to take up new opportunities.

"I also think that the first or second quarter of 2013, almost anyone who can and wants to work will find work [in Christchurch]."

Enterprise Recruitment commercial manager Roz Grant said her company usually helped fill job vacancies that required some skill. It was hard for people with no qualifications to find work.

"The [building] industry itself has set so many health and safety expectations, you have to be working at a certain level. Even things like warehousing and picking and packing require [skills]."

When it came to hospitality jobs, like those at McDonald's, Grant believed the lack of foreign students in the city was making it difficult for employers to fill vacant spots.

"They're students so they don't really have a huge skill base, so it's easy additional support for them. Maybe New Zealand students don't want to work at McDonald's."

Immigration Minister Nathan Guy said it was unlikely a work visa application would be approved if New Zealanders were available or able to be trained for a particular job.

"New Zealanders remain first in line for jobs when they're available and able to do the work."

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There were already some "open" work visa categories that were suitable for migrants seeking unskilled work, such as working holiday and student visas, and the Government had recently extended work rights for students in Canterbury to help employers fill vacancies, he said.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment expected employment would increase in New Zealand this year by 1.8 per cent (40,700 jobs) on 2012, and would jump another 2.1 per cent (46,100) between 2013 and 2014 and a further 1.6 per cent (36,000) between 2014 and 2015.

Opportunities for lower-skilled workers are expected to account for about one-third of the growth.

About 28,800 Cantabrians are out of work, with about 17,400 available for and seeking work.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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