Queenstown employers beg immigration minister for help finding and retaining staff

A Queenstown accommodation owner says she struggles to fill house keeping vacancies and often employs people on three-month working holiday visas.
GEORGE HEARD/STUFF
A Queenstown accommodation owner says she struggles to fill house keeping vacancies and often employs people on three-month working holiday visas.

Queenstown employers have begged the immigration minister to come up with solutions to their staffing problems.

Small business owners pleaded with Iain Lees-Galloway on Wednesday when he met with the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce.

One cafe owner asked for support to find workers immediately, as well as more help in processing visas. 

Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway speaking to the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce.
Debbie Jamieson
Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway speaking to the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce.

"I'm just a small business. I have seven staff. Six of them are on visas. I only have one New Zealander and in fact she's from the Czech Republic but she has permanent residency."

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Another employer, who runs retails stores in several cities in New Zealand said she never saw New Zealanders applying for jobs in her family-owned Queenstown store.

"Then when we do find good staff the longest they can stay with us is a year then they have to apply again and now there's a rule that they can only do that three times."

She also struggled with staff that got residency in a short time and then left their job soon after.​

An accommodation business owner said she struggled to fill house keeping vacancies and often employed people on three-month working holiday visas.

"It's very irritating where we've just got somebody up to the point where they are productive for us and then losing them as an employee."

Lees-Galloway said the high cost of living and accommodation were factors in Queenstown's difficulties.

"You guys have some really particular needs here that might mean a long term plan that delivers for other parts of the country might still mean that you guys have got a tougher road to hoe."

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ann Lockhart said she also suspected the larger part of the problem was the cost of living and accommodation.

A major survey was underway to establish what the key barriers were to attracting staff to the tourist town.

"It could be a perception out there that finding accommodation is difficult but anecdotally we are hearing that housing issues have been easing up in the last six months."

She was advocating for Immigration NZ to change some of the settings around the Essential Skills Work Visa, such as it being issued for three years, instead of holders having to reapply every year.

She liked the minister's plans for a business accreditation system where those businesses that could meet a certain criteria would be given priority with Immigration NZ

"That works in really well with the chamber's strategy at the moment...being an employer of choice," she said.

Lees-Galloway said he hoped to be consulting on the plans before the end of the year.

The criteria could include paying above the market rate, displaying a clear commitment to training and have a clean employment record.

"Undoubtedly this will mean that some employers will be going through their paces a little bit more but the reward for that should be a much more straight forward process and a much greater access to the people that they need,"

Stuff