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Meat Processing And Exporting Jobs In Jeopardy Unless Specialist Migrants Are Allowed To Remain

New Zealand’s meat processing and exporting sector faces being forced to limit production and let people go unless the Government recognises the essential role of its skilled migrant workforce.

Around a third of the country’s 250 essential halal processing workers, who help generate more than $3 billion in export earnings every year, will have to leave New Zealand next year due to the Government’s one-year stand-down policy.

Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association (MIA), said the loss of halal processing people -- alongside hundreds of other essential meat workers -- could result in reduced production and job losses in the sector, which is New Zealand’s largest manufacturing industry.

“Most of the 42 halal processing plants in New Zealand now operate between 10-12 months per year. A shortage of skilled halal processing people could result in production at many plants being limited to six months in the year, which would mean processing of livestock for farmers is severely disrupted and employees might be let go.

“Under the Government’s one-year stand down policy, which applies to low skilled workers, some 80 of these essential halal processing people, and at least 260 other essential meat workers currently working in New Zealand, will be forced to leave.

“Halal production is a key aspect of the industry’s approach to meeting consumer requirements globally. These skilled people are absolutely critical to sustain the entire industry of 25,000 workers.”

The red meat processing and exporting sector’s preference is always to employ New Zealanders from local communities, says Ms Karapeeva.

“We are working hard to attract people who have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19. However, the export demand for halal products means we have a high need for certified practising Muslim processing people and these are highly specialised roles.

“While we recruit as many as we can domestically, it significantly falls short of our need. That means we have no option but to look to migrants to fill some 150 roles each year.”

Since 2002, the industry has been granted an annual Approval in Principle (AIP) to bring in around 145 halal processing people from overseas to fill the sustained shortfall.

“We are actively working on a workforce development strategy to widen the training pipeline in New Zealand, but this relies on certainty of production and our existing halal workforce is a critical aspect of this,” says Ms Karapeeva.

“The red meat processing and export industry is playing a critical role in New Zealand’s economic recovery following the COVID-19 crisis.

“As the country’s second largest export industry, we have shown our resilience and agility by continuing to produce and export food to our 120 global markets during this challenging time, while providing safe employment for over 25,000 people, predominantly in regional communities across New Zealand.”

The industry is urging the Government to extend the time that skilled migrant workers are permitted to remain and work in New Zealand.

Negotiations with Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on a Sector Agreement to streamline future migration of halal processing people and do away with the annual AIPs are on hold due to COVID-19.

The industry’s request for an exemption to roll over the current AIP for 12 months to keep current halal slaughterers in New Zealand, has also been refused.

“These people are necessary for the production of halal-certified products,” says Ms Karapeeva.

“The current immigration policy settings would have significant adverse consequences for our industry and mean we would not be able to operate at optimum capacity or deliver the full economic and social benefits to the country during the recovery.”

The meat processing and exporting sector and sheep and beef farmers collectively generate $12 billion in income per year for the country. The sector is also responsible for $4.6 billion in household income and represents approximately a fifth of New Zealand’s productive sector.

“We have tried to engage constructively with officials, however progress has been slow and the industry is running out of time,” says Ms Karapeeva.

“There is a real risk these decisions could cause disruptions to food production, which could impact the entire workforce and New Zealand’s market access credentials for halal products.”

Over 45 per cent of New Zealand’s total red meat exports are halal certified.

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