The Government will make it easier for construction companies to hire migrant workers, after admitting there is a risk of KiwiBuild cost blowouts if nothing changes.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway on Wednesday announced the Government will create a “temporary KiwiBuild Skills Shortage” list to address this issue.
This means construction firms will be able to go through a quicker process to get the skilled workers they need when they can’t recruit locally.
In a Cabinet Paper, Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa says unless action is taken to improve construction workforce development, “these issues will further increase the costs of, and risk the ability to deliver on, the Government’s construction and infrastructure projects.”
She told Cabinet that the construction industry does not have the “size and skills to deliver New Zealand’s growing pipeline of construction projects.”
This includes KiwiBuild, which Lees-Galloway says is being held up by the skills shortage.
“It’s estimated we are some 30,000 workers short, particularly plumbers, electricians, engineers, builders and project managers so we need to make changes,” Lees-Galloway said in a statement.
New Zealand’s unemployment rate is 4.4% and for months, firms have been complaining about a skills shortage – particularly in the construction sector.
Before the election, Labour promised to introduce a “KiwiBuild visa” to address the skills gap in the market.
“The number of places will be limited to 1,000 to 1,500 at a given time, which we expect will be additional to the construction work visas issued under the existing rules,” its policy says.
Lees-Galloway says the skills shortage list is a “broader, more comprehensive and quicker approach” than the KiwiBuild visa policy.
“It’s clear we need workers to be available more quickly; these proposals aim to speed up the process and circumvent the need to create a new visa category.”
National claims ‘xenophobic hypocrisy’
National’s Housing Spokeswoman Judith Collins saying Labours policy to “slash migration” before the election has been exposed as “a cynical attempt to win votes from NZ First.”
“The announcement comes after Housing Minister Phil Twyford yesterday told Parliament there were no plans to bring foreign tradespeople into New Zealand to work on KiwiBuild houses,” Collins says.
In the House on Tuesday, Collins asked Twyford: “If the [KiwiBuild] funding will come from overseas, the flat packs will come from overseas, and even the workers now look like they're going to be coming from overseas, what part of KiwiBuild is Kiwi?”
In response, he said: “We are not planning on bringing workers in from overseas. The Kiwi element in KiwiBuild is young Kiwi families getting the opportunity to own their own home, after a decade of denial.”
Collins says this indicates either an unwillingness to tell the truth or that Twyford didn’t know his own policy or what his colleagues were doing.
Speaking to media before going into the House on Wednesday, Twyford said his comments were ins response to Collins’ “absurd suggestion” that all the workers for KiwiBuild would be coming from overseas.
“It’s always been our policy that we would be bringing in skilled workers from overseas because we have inherited a situation where the former Government didn’t invest in the workforce.”
Accreditation will be needed
Any company wishing to look overseas for workers will have to be accredited. This will reduce the risk of worker exploitation, Lees-Galloway says.
As well as the skills shortage list, the Government will also introduce a streamlined process so firms with good employment practices can be pre-approved to bring in workers from overseas.
Any changes would be time-limited, so the sector does not become permanently dependent on migrant workers, he says.
A “Construction Skills Action Plan” is being developed to address the long-term labour market needs, the Minister says.
In her Cabinet report, Salesa says despite the number of programmes focusing on training workers, employers often report that they are not getting the skills they need.
Lees-Galloway expects the skills shortages List could be in place in around six months, subject to final decisions following consultation.