'About 2000 people short' - meat industry looks overseas as it struggles to fill vacancies

The meat industry, one of New Zealand's largest employers, is looking offshore to fill the gaps of a major labour shortage, a far cry from its heyday when it had no problems finding workers.

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Alliance is looking for staff overseas, saying there are not enough Kiwis to fill the gaps, or those that are applying aren’t up to scratch. Source: 1 NEWS

Murray Taggart, chairman of meat company Alliance, told 1 NEWS that on any one day the company will have more than 100 vacancies it's struggling to fill at its largest plant, Lorneville, which has 1700 employees.

Meat Industry Association chairman Tim Ritchie said the association has done a survey of its member companies, "and at that peak season we believe we're about 2000 people short".

The shortage has prompted Alliance to look offshore, saying there aren't enough Kiwis to fill the gap, or that those who are applying aren't fit for purpose.

Mr Taggart said New Zealanders are the company's first preference, "but we're in a safety sensitive environment, so they have to be people that can turn up in fit state for work".

While it supports the move in some regions, the Meat Workers Union isn't convinced.

"If we took a look at the Southland area, Alliance had two-and-a-half times more applicants than they had vacancies for the 2017-18 season," said Daryl Carran of Meat Workers Union, Otago-Southland.

Alliance says the move is not about saving money, citing bigger costs to hire overseas applicants.

The company says the fact that it's seasonal work, sometimes employing workers for just seven months of the year has job seekers looking elsewhere.

Tim Ritchie said it's a seasonal industry "and it's not an industry that people naturally want to come and work in".

The union wants more incentives to attract Kiwis. 

"The commentators in Southland that are making those claims seem to have one common denominator, and that is that they actually tend to pay low wages," Mr Carran said.