I don’t blame you if your first reaction is to like the sound of the government’s plan to cut right back on migrant workers.
For a while there has been frustration at our high levels of migration, and the pressure migrant workers have put on our resources; roads, schools, houses and so on.
So we have just done an experiment of what it’s like without that.
We’ve now had more than a year without migration.
So what’s your assessment? Is it an improvement?
I figure there are two ways of looking at this.
The first is to think it went well. The government subscribes to this point of view. They point to the kiwifruit industry and they say look how well the kiwifruit guys adapted: they moved from a mostly overseas based workers to mostly domestic work.
They’ve made their shifts more flexible, they hunted out students to come work, they lifted their wages, and it was brilliant. If only all the other industries could do that.
Then there’s the second way of looking at it. Even though they adapted, the kiwifruit guys couldn’t pick all their fruit, some of it ended up rotting because they still didn’t’ have enough workers. Apple growers pulled out trees because they can’t make it work anymore, their fruit has rotted. Courgettes have rotted on the ground.
Matt McLaughlin, who owns Panhead bar in Wellington, says he’s considering shutting his bar a couple of days a week because he can’t find staff to run the place.
There are 800 vacancies for chefs advertised on Trade Me Jobs apparently. We’re not going to train 800 chefs in time for all those restaurants and bars, so presumably some are going to have to close.
And yet, the expected windfall of losing all those pesky migrants hasn’t arrived. Roads are still congested, house prices have shot up at record rates, even when it’s just us Kiwis competing for them, and has your child’s class size decreased?
And look at the place that complained the most about the overcrowding; Queenstown, always too congested. What would they give now to get those people back?
I don’t know about you, but for me, a year of this experiment hasn’t convinced me we’re better off without these migrant workers.
Heather du Plessis-Allan is a journalist and commentator who hosts Newstalk ZB's Drive show.
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