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NZ business needs to protect its core skills

NZ business needs to protect its core skills says the Productive Economy Council

The government needs to think carefully before deciding to limit temporary work visas for skilled migrants or interfere in any way with the retention decisions of companies, says the Productive Economy Council.

Following the recent case of MCK Metals Pacific Ltd in New Plymouth, which made New Zealand workers redundant while Filipino workers on temporary work permits kept their jobs, Prime Minister John Key has said that while the skilled migrant quota helps the economy, migrants should not get jobs at the expense of local workers. Meanwhile Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman has said the Government might use limits on temporary work visas as a way to control labour demands during the recession.

But Productive Economy Council spokesman Selwyn Pellett says the government needs to consider the reasons why a productive company chooses to retain migrant workers over local workers, which should be the "skilled migrant" status of the workers.

"Many companies are facing long term issues here," says Pellett. "The global economy has tanked, their markets have dried up and they need to think about how their companies can survive the immediate downturn while remaining in a strong position to exploit opportunities in their core markets when business picks up."

Often this means asking highly skilled people to do lesser jobs to retain their skills within the company.

"The High Tech sector has only been able to survive in New Zealand thanks to skilled migrants and without them we would progressively lose over $2 billion in exports generated from that sector alone, and I suspect these figures apply in other elaborately transformed export sectors," says Pellett.

In fact, says Pellett, now is the time to attract more skilled migrants not less.

"Many of our most productive companies have struggled to attract skilled workers in recent years due to the booming international market. Right now talented people are displaced all over the world and the smarter countries will be working out how to get them contributing to their economy in the next ten years instead of having to compete against them," says Pellett.

"We need these skills as part of larger strategy of counter cyclical investment in productivity and competitiveness, and if we can't get them locally then it is in the interests of all New Zealanders for us to recruit them on the international market. The last thing we need to do right now is be seen as a country that treats its migrant workers as disposable," says Pellett.

"One entrepreneur, for example, can create 500 jobs in just a few years but they often have to turn to skilled migrants because the skills they need to grow the business simply haven't been available locally. 'Jobs for Kiwis first', is an appealing line for any politician to push, but it's of no value if the short term gain results in a long term loss as companies are left less able to compete on in the global market. Protecting jobs for Kiwis should be a long-term plan, not a short-term knee jerk reaction."

"Cutting back on skilled temporary migrants as an anti-recession measure is old world thinking. If we are all sitting around hoping for a return to the way things where then I suggest we are all going to be bitterly disappointed," says Pellett.

"The world has changed and probably for the better. There is now a global focus on productivity, bottom-line profits and cash flows generated from active investments rather than tax havens for inflation based wealth generation or complicated financial tools that lead to this economic meltdown."

"It's ironic that National has campaigned on a platform of employer choice via the 90-day trial period, which we strongly support, but appears to think that the government can better decide for a company which workers it should keep in a recession. It serves nobody to force a company to dismiss the workers that deliver the competitive edge that keeps the doors open."

"If you want jobs for Kiwis then the companies that provide them need to survive. So let the employers make the hard decisions now to protect the employment future of New Zealanders in the long term," says Pellett.

The Productive Economy Council

The Productive Economy Council represents a growing community of people that wish to see New Zealand return to the upper end of the OECD in terms of GDP per capita. It was founded by four of the former Trustees of the Hi Growth Project including: current President of the Hi Tech Association Wayne Norrie; former executive of the Hi Growth Project, Garth Biggs; Former Chairman of the Hi Tech Association and entrepreneur Selwyn Pellett; and APEC Business Advisory Council, Co-chair Technology & Information Working Group, John Blackham.


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