A dearth of qualified scaffolding workers could be a setback for the earthquake rebuild, an industry group says.

Graham Burke, chief executive of Scaffolding Access and Rigging New Zealand, is calling on the Government to make it easier for foreign scaffolding professionals to stay in the country to work.

He said there was already a shortage of workers holding an advanced scaffold certificate prior to the November 14 earthquake.

"We really want to be training as many advanced scaffolders as we can here in New Zealand but when there's a severe shortage like this it is helpful if we can get a few more of those experienced scaffolders into New Zealand.


"There's a lot of construction work in Auckland, which is going to continue to drive demand. The Canterbury rebuild's still going pretty strong and now there's a lot of work in Wellington after that earthquake, on top of what's already going on.

"Definitely [the shortage] could be an impediment to progress."

Scaffolders are on Immigration New Zealand's immediate skills shortage list and Canterbury skill shortage list.

Burke said advanced scaffolders should be placed onto the skilled occupations list to enable them to get a three year rather than one year work visa.

"For those people that have got families and that, they should be given the opportunity to work towards residence. At the moment most of them can only get a one year work visa so it's hard to encourage those really good people."

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff disagreed with the argument that immigration rules should be relaxed, saying the emphasis should be on training New Zealanders.

"The construction industry's currently got something like 10,000 apprentices currently going through and they've made a real effort to train Kiwis. But we're not clear that the scaffolding industry's done the same.

"Our view is that the priority should be to increase the skills of New Zealanders so that they can do this work rather than bringing in skilled people from overseas.

"That's a better investment -- it future-proofs us better. There's a real danger that New Zealand industries like scaffolding could get stuck into this low-wage cycle where they just employ migrants."