The Government plans to make it easier for foreign building and construction workers to be hired to get its KiwiBuild programme and other projects moving.
It is proposing a new KiwiBuild skills shortage list. That is in addition to the existing immediate skills shortage list, Canterbury skills shortage list and long-term skills shortage list.
There would be an easier process for companies who met certain requirements to recruit foreign tradespeople from overseas, and labour hire companies could gain accreditation to also recruit from overseas, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa announced today.
The visas issued to the foreign workers would be for only a limited time as the local workforce was built up, but Lees-Galloway could not put a timeframe on that today.
"We want to make it absolutely clear that this is a temporary solution."
It is estimated that the country is around 30,000 short of the workers it needs for all the housing and infrastructure work planned.
That includes the Government's promise to deliver 100,000 homes in 10 years.
Under the new measures, local building and construction companies will have to take on apprentices if they want a slice of the KiwiBuild work as a condition of the procurement process.
"We've received around about 100 responses to our proposals for KiwiBuild houses. All of them had to give us, in terms of the criteria, that they're going to be doing skills and training for young people," Salesa said.
In December last year, Lees-Galloway added seven building-related occupations to the immediate skills shortage list, saying it would make it easier for employers to get the people they needed.
In the lead-up to last year's election, Labour campaigned on immigration cuts of 20,000 to 30,000 through tightening visa requirements and introducing a "Kiwibuild Visa". That idea, in which residential building firms would have to train a local if they hired a worker from overseas, has now been dropped.
National leader Simon Bridges today called it "rank hypocrisy" that Labour was going to slash immigration before the election but now acknowledged a need for skilled migrants.
"We've always said actually you need sensible immigration for the skills and the capital they bring and now it seems very belatedly the Government's come around to this."
Housing Minister Phil Twyford, who this week asked for registrations of interest from New Zealand and overseas in setting up factories to make KiwiBuild houses, yesterday said in Parliament that the Government was not planning on bringing in workers from overseas.
Today National's housing spokeswoman Judith Collins asked Twyford what discussions he'd had with Salesa about bringing in "1500 KiwiBuild Visa workers from overseas to build KiwiBuild houses".
Twyford said he'd had many discussions with Salesa.
A Cabinet paper from Salesa on the action plan on construction skills suggests one way of increasing New Zealand's own workforce is the "Dole for Apprenticeships" scheme.
The scheme would give employers a wage subsidy for offering apprenticeships and full-time, permanent work to those on benefits, particularly young people.
The Cabinet paper also acknowledged that KiwiBuild's use of modular building methods would change the skills and labour needs of the workforce and require "significant investment" by the sector in new technology.
Lees-Galloway expected the KiwiBuild Skills Shortages List to be in place in about six months.
The proposed changes to the immigration settings will introduce:
• A KiwiBuild Skills Shortage List to provide an expedited process to fill specific roles for which we know demand exceeds domestic supply;
• An employer accreditation or alternative pre-approval model for the construction sector to provide certainty and flexibility for employers who exhibit good practices to recruit overseas workers and allow for simplicity and speed of processing visa applications
• A specific requirements to accredit labour hire companies to manage the risk of worker exploitation and the potential for under-cutting of wages and conditions of New Zealand workers that may result and to incentivise good employment practices.