Only 60 managed isolation quarantine spaces a month are available for overseas construction workers classified as "critical", which one building boss says is "ridiculous" in a sector short by more than 50,000 workers.
Andrew Moore, commercial manager at Auckland-headquartered CMP Construction, said the sector found to be short of 57,600 workers two years ago is crying out for more skilled migrants.
"With Covid and shut borders, it's become much worse," Moore said.
Such restricted MIQ facilities made a mockery of any Government attempts to ease big builders' problems, he said.
A spokesman for the Government's Construction Sector Accord confirmed Moore's figures.
"It's 300 places or 60/month for specialised construction workers from June to October," the spokesman said of the Construction Sector Accord announced as the Government's Covid response.
Border restrictions were having an impact on all sectors' ability to recruit migrant labour. Employers must request a border exception under the "other critical worker" border exception category to be able to bring workers into the country.
"Since the 'other critical worker' criteria came into effect on June 18, 2020, Immigration New Zealand received 248 requests involving 565 workers for a border exception relating to the construction industry. Of those, 108 requests involving 283 workers have been granted," the spokesman said.
Feedback from industry to the accord was that current demand was being met via MIQ. But access to the additional 60 places per month allowed industry to plan ahead.
Geoff Speck, New Zealand director of global quantity surveyor Rider Levett Bucknall, said in 2019 that the multibillion-dollar construction sector needed an extra 57,600 people.
MBIE said construction sector employment rose 3.8 per cent in the December quarter, so 278,300 people are employed.
"Ongoing border closures limit the ability of construction employers to alleviate skill shortages through migrant labour, however, there are now 16,000 apprentices in trades training," MBIE said.
The BDO annual construction survey released in November said Covid had driven the $23 billion-a-year sector into more risky territory with jobs on the line, uncertainty of future work and low-ball bidding rising: 69 per cent of respondents had contracts cancelled or delayed.
But work has since rebounded and consents are running at all-time highs.
Gary Walker, chief executive of Leighs Construction, which will rebuild the Antarctic's Scott Base, said it was too early to say if the Construction Sector Accord was working but he too is worried about the 60/month MIQ spaces.
"New Zealand has traditionally supplemented its peaks in labour volume with construction management and tradespersons from overseas," Walker said. Having 60/month MIQ spaces was "a step in the right direction but based on predicted labour shortage volumes it will have little to no effect on easing the predicted demand".
"A lack of clarity of how the Government plans to open immigration channels is causing uncertainty for companies with long-term construction work. The shortage could lead to cost increases," Walker said.
Subcontractors were hardest hit, signalling the labour shortage was driving up prices, Walker said.
MBIE had indicated that up to 50,000 new roles would be needed to meet existing and known demand in the next five or so years, Walker said.
Peter Reidy, Fletcher Construction chief executive, said closed borders combined with a huge Government infrastructure programme put the sector under huge pressure.
Fletcher was advertising "for everyone from senior and experienced project managers to drainlayers, asphalt operators and labourers".
The South Island has fewer issues "but Auckland and the lower North Island are feeling the squeeze".
"More than ever it is important as a business that we are training our people well, offering competitive market rates and ensuring we are a safe place to work. Attracting women into the industry in greater numbers is also critical," Reidy said.
The Construction Accord was certainly an attempt to help ease the pressure, Reidy said.
"Pre-Covid, we were already seeing some regional shortages, often in the frontline workforce. The lack of diversity in the industry hasn't helped. We have been hiring primarily from only half of the population.
The Government's significant trades training programme was hoped to bring many more into the sector, particularly under subsidised apprenticeships. Fletcher is working with the Ministry of Social Development to recruit people who might not have considered construction before,"
"But you simply can't train for a lot of the roles we need – highly experienced engineers, project managers, specialist infrastructure skills and professional services," Reidy said.
The accord recognises women make up only 18 per cent of the construction-related workforce and Māori and Pasifika are underrepresented in the skilled professions.
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