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Immigration not a cure-all for Queenstown

David Parker MP for Otago

7 February 2005

Immigration not a cure-all for Queenstown labour shortage

A living wage and affordable housing for kiwi workers must be key priorities for employers, local and central government when grappling with the problem of Queenstown’s labour shortage, says Otago MP David Parker.

Freeing up immigration rules and enabling overseas visitors to get work permits to fill lower paid jobs is not the answer, except during seasonal peaks, Mr Parker said today. Mr Parker said seasonal peaks requiring overseas labour must be carefully defined and stuck to. “There are serious underlying core workforce issues in Queenstown and Wanaka,” Mr Parker said today. “Accommodation costs and other living costs are very high. The price of housing in Queenstown is the highest in New Zealand.

“There is very little older, cheaper housing available,” he said. “Hotels offer less accommodation for workers than in the past. Low wages and irregular income make some of these jobs unsustainable for workers.” Mr Parker said some employers were already doing more to attract staff by helping them find accommodation. Competition for workers had also seen some employers respond by guaranteeing regular hours and higher wages to attract the staff they need. These pressures were shifting the New Zealand tourism industry toward the higher priced end of the market, rather than the higher volume, lower value end of the market. Mr Parker said he supported this trend but was concerned with the ongoing issue of affordable accommodation and low wages.

“As local MP I have encouraged the government through Housing New Zealand to contribute to the cost of an affordable housing project which is being coordinated by the council. But more progress is needed. The Queenstown Lakes District Council can stimulate affordable housing by encouraging intensive subdivision and apartment complexes (with appropriate green space) and reinstating planning rules requiring hotels to provide worker accommodation. This will also help limit urban sprawl, he said.

“Some Queenstown businesses have suggested that the government fix the problem by building state houses in the area. I disagree. Queenstown and Wanaka are two of the wealthiest areas in the country. The rate of population growth is the highest in New Zealand, perhaps even in Australasia.

“If workers can’t afford to live their on their wages in these areas, then employers need to compete for workers by improving terms and conditions.” Mr Parker said all care must be taken not to undermine the ability of local workers to earn a living wage. “The key to this is to define seasonal peaks, issue short term work permits but make sure they remain short term and do not extend beyond the peak period.

ENDS

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