More than 63,000 fit, capable, work-ready New Zealanders are looking for jobs, so why are we importing workers?

Between 2011 and last year, more than 23,000 Filipinos were granted temporary visas to work on New Zealand farms, because, apparently, there were no Kiwis to do the jobs. Yet Government stats state there are.

I can understand why overseas workers might be brought in to work in industries or professions where years of specialist training is required.

But being a good farm worker requires little more than basic common sense and a willingness to work. And the furore over the faked Filipino work visas proves that. It is believed one in three of the thousands of Filipino farmer workers is here with faked documents.


Farmers are beside themselves as this is one of the busiest times of year. They say the Filipino workers may not have had experience before they arrived, but they have proved invaluable and losing them would be devastating for their businesses.

So, if Filipinos can be trained from nil experience to become highly regarded workers, why can't Kiwis?

Although the number of jobseekers has fallen overall, in Northland, Waikato, Taranaki, Wellington and Nelson the numbers of unemployed people stayed the same or went up slightly.

The first three regions are big farming areas so surely there's a simple equation? Farmers need workers. Jobseekers need jobs. Put the two together and you have fewer people on the dole and no need to bring in migrant workers.

But many people told me they would rather be on the dole than work for unscrupulous employers who paid less than the minimum wage and worked them like dogs.

They talked of long hours, substandard housing and having to battle for holiday pay and lieu days.

One told me he and two other Kiwis had worked for a farmer for nine years only to be told they no longer had jobs because the farmer was hiring migrant workers.

He could pay migrant workers less and get them to do more because they weren't as aware of New Zealand employment laws and, presumably, not as willing or able to stand up for themselves.


Other callers, though, said migrant workers were needed because Kiwis were lazy and afraid of hard work.

Frank Brenmuhl from Federated Farmers says it's about whether people want to get on and what they're prepared to do to achieve that. He trained as a paper hanger and decorator but saw farmers were the wealthy guys in town so resolved that he, too, would own a farm.

All his mates said he was mad. He didn't come from a farming family and no farmer's daughter would want him. But by hard work, starting as a farm labourer and working his way up, he now owns two farms.

Fit, healthy Kiwis aren't working on farms because they don't want to. They want to go out on a Friday night and stay out until four. They don't want to work at 5am. He looks at people in the cities on the dole and wonders why they wouldn't seize the opportunity when they are offered a good wage, a good house and an occupation with room to better themselves.

And I wonder the same. If farmers need to lift their game and become more attractive to job seekers it is incumbent on them to do so.

I have nothing against people coming here to better themselves. But if we have New Zealanders languishing on the dole when they could be doing the jobs overseas workers are doing, that needs to change.

• Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, Monday-Thursday 8pm-midnight