It is a cruel irony that despite Tauranga's growing population, employers are still facing major staff shortages.
Tauranga's long-term population growth has been relentless through the last two years of Covid-19-related lockdowns and restrictions, yet there are businesses struggling to stay open during what appears to be a historic drought of eligible staff.
It was tough enough for businesses looking for staff during record low unemployment, MIQ restrictions on overseas labour and routine drug testing. It is going to get tougher for employers when vaccine passes are required and Delta establishes itself in the Western Bay of Plenty.
Employers of skilled staff are weighing up the short-term risks of losing customers, if they do not require their staff to have vaccine passes, against the medium-term risk of losing some senior unvaccinated staff if they enforce vaccine passes.
The Government's MIQ bottleneck has made the situation much harder on employers than it should as there is not an option for employers to attract vaccinated, skilled migrants and support them to isolate at home.
A local bar owner told me they are losing their head chef because they need to require vaccine passes to remain open under the traffic light framework, but it is impossible to replace head chefs with borders closed, so their business will likely be restricted anyway.
Leaders with large blue-collar workforces have shared their frustrations with me as they struggled to maintain their workforce in normal times, particularly with challenges of routine drug testing. They now face additional challenges as many of their customers are requiring all tradespeople to have vaccine passes and as staff need to isolate at home while waiting for Covid-19 tests.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Local businesses need to learn lessons from the initial Delta outbreak in Auckland where some supermarkets closed as they did not have enough staff to open, mostly due to staff isolating at home or waiting for tests.
I am pleased to hear situations where competitors are working together to ensure there is capacity to maintain the region's lifeline infrastructure and essential services, if there are labour shortages due to skilled workers needing to isolate at home.
It is all-hands-on-deck to address the labour issues so residents can enjoy an uninterrupted summer. But it is not sustainable in the long-term.
Our labour drought is at a critical point. The Government must prioritise home isolation for low-risk, skilled overseas workers. It can also allow rapid antigen testing to enable unvaccinated workers, who are never going to get the jab, to fill urgent gaps in New Zealand's labour force.
• Matt Cowley is the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive