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by Chris Tobin

South Canterbury meat companies are so desperate for workers to start the new killing season they are recruiting overseas.

Immigration NZ has approved work visas for 24 migrant employees to work at Alliance Smithfield this season.

Figures released to The Courier by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) show Immigration NZ has also allowed Silver Fern Farms to employ 49 overseas workers in Canterbury, although the information did not specify what the break-down figures between the company’s two plants at Pareora and Belfast, Christchurch, were.

Work visas for 18 overseas workers for Anzco Foods at Ashburton have also been approved.

Last week, Smithfield held a leaflet drop around Timaru urging people to apply for the coming season as slaughter-board assistants, processing assistants and boners on either day or night shifts.

Alliance Smithfield’s acting plant manager Ivan Docherty said they were short by almost 30 workers throughout the last processing season.

“The processing season for sheep and lamb at Smithfield is likely to re-start in November, and we require approximately 80 additional employees for general processing roles.”

Silver Fern Farms’ Pareora plant manager Bruce McNaught said they were currently processing stock following an annual two week shut-down for maintenance in June and needed staff.

“We are looking for staff across a variety of roles on the site including skilled knife-hands, general labourers and staff in our load-out team.”

Secretary of the Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Meatworkers Union Bill Watt said he was aware local meat companies had applied to Immigration NZ to bring in 100 workers.

“All the works are desperate for people; between Oamaru to Rakaia there’s only a population of around 100,000, and you’ve got all these big plants.

“There are more than 800 workers at Pareora, a similar number at Anzco at Ashburton, Pukeuri has close to 850 to 1000 and then you’ve got all the Fonterras, Synlaits and Oceanias [dairy processors].

“All these industries are screaming out for workers.

“The groups are coming mainly from the islands, Samoa and Tonga, and there are Filipinos.”

Mr Watt said the meat companies’ labour shortage between Oamaru to the Rakaia had become an ongoing issue.

“We know Pareora has a number of migrant workers and have for some time. They come back year after year. They have the same rights as everyone if they can get immigration approval.

“If a company can’t get enough people locally, frankly, what’s the option?”

He said with so many jobs available in the region some people moved around.

“People in Auckland talk of traffic and congestion and I often think – why aren’t they down here?”

Celtic Rugby Club life member Vaughan O’Shaughnessy said the club had brought players from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa – sometimes four to five a year – who could be employed by the club, but not by outside employers such as meat works.

“We put them into the schools, coaching and mentoring and working round the club; it went on for years.”

For the first time this year, however, the club would have three players coming from the islands who would be working at the Smithfield works.

MBIE said the Meat Industry Association had also submitted an application to Immigration New Zealand to employ 143 migrant halal slaughterers.

Meanwhile, other sectors in South Canterbury have also been crying out for workers, with shortages in areas from truck drivers and fish process workers through to management positions.

Staff shortages could intensify also next year given expansion plans for Oceania Dairy near Glenavy.

This could require up to 100 extra staff.

At present between 260 and 270 workers are employed at Oceania.