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Well-meaning immigration reforms require tweaks

Well-meaning immigration reforms require tweaks

Road Transport Forum News

 June 2019    RTF News

The Government's proposed changes to employer-assisted work visas and regional workforce planning are well-meaning and on the right track…..but require "tweaking" to make them truly work for industry.

This is the opinion of RTF's policy manager Mark Ngatuere, who recently wrote RTF's submission on the proposed changes.

"RTF recognises that immigration will never be a longterm substitute for developing homegrown talent," he says – and adds: "However, Government must begin to recognise that road freight transport requires particular solutions to meet freight task demands that are currently outstripping supply."

Included in the Government's plan is the establishment of sector agreements to provide employers with greater access to temporary migrant workers in certain industries struggling with workforce problems.

These agreements come with obligations for employers, including reducing their overall reliance on immigration, investing in training and improving industry productivity.

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The Government's proposed changes to employer-assisted work visas and regional workforce planning are well-meaning and on the right track…..but require "tweaking" to make them truly work for industry.
This is the opinion of RTF's policy manager Mark Ngatuere, who recently wrote RTF's submission on the proposed changes.
"RTF recognises that immigration will never be a longterm substitute for developing homegrown talent," he says – and adds: "However, Government must begin to recognise that road freight transport requires particular solutions to meet freight task demands that are currently outstripping supply."
Included in the Government's plan is the establishment of sector agreements to provide employers with greater access to temporary migrant workers in certain industries struggling with workforce problems.
These agreements come with obligations for employers, including reducing their overall reliance on immigration, investing in training and improving industry productivity.
The sector agreements proposal also includes a provision that after three years, migrants who have come in under the scheme must stand down for one year before returning to work in New Zealand.
RTF strongly opposes this idea as we do not consider it to be reasonable to invite people here to work, get them settled and productive – then insist they leave after three years.
RTF believes this is a clumsy policy that is neither in an employer's interest, a migrant's interest or in our economic interest.
RTF also sees significant issues with the remuneration threshold being proposed.
Ngatuere says that 150% of the average NZ income, or $78,000, is the threshold being proposed – which, he believes, "is a ludicrous figure and way out of step with the reality of our industry.
"It is another well-meaning, blunt tool to increase overall remuneration levels and further protect against exploitation. It really just means that the scheme is out of reach for many employers," he adds.
Another concern that RTF has is with the continued reliance on the ANZSCO rating system that is used to classify all occupations and jobs in the Australian and NZ labour markets.
Generally, a higher ANZSCO rating translates to higher remuneration. However, RTF no longer considers the ANZSCO rating fit for purpose.
Says Ngatuere: "While the system identifies skill level, it shouldn't be used as an arbitrary gauge of remuneration level or vice versa. For a number of years we have been arguing for a system that recognises the different skill levels within the industry.
"Currently, the ANZSCO rating lumps all truck drivers together on the same level. This makes the system an unnecessarily blunt instrument as – like almost all occupations – there are a variety of skill levels amongst truck drivers….and, clearly, higher-skilled drivers belong in a higher qualification level than where they are currently rated."
RTF is convinced that, with the right tweaking, the ANZSCO rating system has the potential to be a lot more responsive to the needs of the road transport industry and better reflect the range of driving skills and experience within the industry.
According to Ngatuere: "RTF has been banging this same drum for a number of years now and will continue to do so until ANZSCO undergoes the necessary reforms."
Though, on the whole, the Government's proposals are a valiant attempt at a more partnered approach to immigration, he says, there still remains a significant divide between training, education and immigration policy.
"RTF would like to see public policy in these areas complement each other better.
"Improved communication between Government officials and employers, for example, would mean policy settings could be more receptive to workforce issues as they arise," argues Ngatuere.
"Immigration policy could also be more responsive to the needs of the industry and be tweaked to deal with economic and demographic trends as they happen, rather than what is the case now – which is trying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted."
This policy disconnect is never more apparent, he says, than when one considers the driver licensing regime: "As RTF has argued vociferously for 20 years, the current licensing system hinders new entrant uptake in the road transport industry, as well as other sectors that rely on people with heavy vehicle licences.
"We have heavily lobbied successive governments to reform and streamline the licensing system and it's extremely disappointing that the proposal that's now on the table does little to address the underlying issues with the current system – and will remain an impediment to young people getting into the industry."
RTF also strongly made the point in its submission that the penchant for successive governments to push academic qualifications, while neglecting the vocational occupations, has led to the skills shortage we see now.
Ngatuere says: "The good news is that we aren't the only ones raising this issue. The BCITO's ad, A Tricky Chat, which many readers will have seen, is a humorous take on the prevailing attitude – that pursuing a career in the trades is something to be frowned upon.
"For a long time it's been unfashionable for kids to aspire to a vocational career – and proposals to limit residency opportunities for less-skilled workers only serves to reinforce the message that those occupations are not worth as much as other, more professional careers.
"The reality is that building houses, driving trucks, operating machinery, painting, plastering and plumbing are tasks that are critical to our economy – and without people to do them the economic impact would be severe."
Sums up Ngatuere: "Could we say the same about lawyers and accountants? I'm not so sure."


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