26 May 2009

Queenstown still having New Zealand work permit troubles

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Employers in the adventure capital are having a hard time getting New Zealand work permit renewals for staff in the hospitality industry, despite the Department of Labour issuing a memo to employers saying that retail, hospitality and service industry jobs are not being filled by New Zealanders.

The Department of Labour has systematically downsized the New Zealand work permit program so that fewer overseas workers are adding to the competition for employment during the economic slowdown.  The trouble is Queenstown's economy, which is built upon tourism, hospitality and ski-based occupations, relies upon overseas workers on a New Zealand work permit returning on a seasonal basis.  According to employers, they are more qualified than new local workers trying to fill the positions, because they have experience and require little training. 

New Zealand work permits  will only be renewed if the government believes no other New Zealander is fit to fill that position, and if they agree that the employer has advertised the position for at least two weeks to the local workforce. And yet while cleaner, receptionist, cafe assistant, office clerk, housekeeper, waiter/food and beverage attendant, sales/shop assistant, supermarket worker, chef, bar attendant, kitchen-hand, and adventure tour guide are all the occupations listed by the government as being in demand, employers are still finding it difficult to prove that they should be allowed to hire a New Zealand work permit holder. 

According to the Otago Daily Times, Tony Robertson, a restaurateur in the region and vice-president of the Restaurant Association of New Zealand said a New Zealand work permit holder employed in his kitchen for two years had to be returned home because his permit extension application was refused. 

The Department of Labour spokesman Rowan Saker said that the number of work permit approvals had fallen by 18 per cent for the year to April 30 because of the increased pressure from the government to ensure New Zealanders are getting the first bite of the cherry.

"However, in the current economic climate more labour market testing is carried out to determine whether or not New Zealand citizens and residents are available to do the work offered," he said.

"This decrease is due to higher decline rates as labour market checks confirm that suitable New Zealanders are now available to fill the job vacancies on offer," he said.

However, head of Immigration New Zealand Andrew Annakin said that the immigration program would continue to fulfil its role of filling the skills gaps in the workforce.

"Despite the recession, there remain some acute labour market shortages where immigration is the best way of addressing them in the short- and medium-term."

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