Labour leader Andrew Little suggests regional skills shortage lists during Timaru visit video

DOUG FIELD/STUFF

Andrew Little discusses plans for a regional skills shortage list.

A proposal to address South Canterbury's skilled labour shortage by having regionally specific skills shortage lists for migrants has been backed by the region's business and economic development leaders.

Labour leader Andrew Little raised the idea during his visit to Timaru this week, where he held a public meeting and discussed local issues with business, health, and education stakeholders.

The proposal, which would see groups formed within each region to establish their own skills shortage lists, has received support from stakeholders who say the Government's proposed changes to visa laws would be "devastating" for South Canterbury's economy.

Labour leader Andrew Little addresses a public meeting in Timaru on Wednesday night.
SUPPLIED

Labour leader Andrew Little addresses a public meeting in Timaru on Wednesday night.

However, the minister responsible says the Government already has a regional focus to address labour shortages in specific areas.

A survey conducted last year revealed many South Canterbury firms were struggling in the face of labour shortages that threatened to slow business growth, and that of the wider economy.

READ MORE: Changes to work visa could impact SC schools 

Labour leader Andrew Little speaks to stakeholders in Timaru on Thursday.
DOUG FIELD/STUFF

Labour leader Andrew Little speaks to stakeholders in Timaru on Thursday.

While Labour has confirmed plans to slash immigration if elected in September, Little said he was keen for the regions to have more input into attracting migrant workers.

Groups including stakeholders such as local chambers of commerce and unions would be established and tasked with creating a list, which would then be reviewed yearly, he said.

It is a plan that has already been suggested to the Government, with South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith writing to Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse on June 27 to raise the idea.

As of Thursday afternoon, she was yet to hear back from Woodhouse.

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The suggestion was raised in response to the Government's proposed new, tighter rules on migrants, including that they will need to earn a minimum of $48,859 annually for three years to qualify for residency as "highly skilled migrants". Otherwise they will need to leave the country after a maximum of three years. 

"Our view is that the tool being proposed in the policy is too blunt," Smith said.

"It could have a major impact on a number of our businesses here."

She identified three sectors- tourism and hospitality, farming, and aged care- that would be particularly affected.

"It could have a devastating impact, a very serious impact on our economy as a whole."

Aoraki Development chief executive Nigel Davenport was also supportive of a regional skills shortage list.

"The more a government can engage with the regions that are at the coalface, the better.

"I am a strong advocate for a more regional focus on key issues."

In a statement Woodhouse said his office received a letter from Smith on July 10,  and a response was being drafted.

Little's comments highlighted his "ignorance of current immigration policy", he said.

"We already have a regional focus in both the Immediate Skills Shortage and Canterbury Skills Shortage lists to specifically address labour shortages in certain areas.

The South Canterbury business community has more cause for concern with Labour's immigration policy which would arbitrarily cut immigration by tens of thousands, making it even harder for regions to fill labour shortages."

Under the Government's proposed immigration changes, regions would continue to be able to hire migrants to fill genuine labour shortages, he said.

"The changes simply provide more clarity around visa conditions for those migrants coming to NZ."

During his visit Little also discussed mental health, which he said had be an issue raised consistently at public meetings around the country.

Labour had plans to combat pressure on the mental health system, including funding registered nurses in all secondary schools.

 - Stuff

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