A leading Wairoa youth advocate hopes the town's major employer will never have to use imported labour despite lodging an application with Immigration New Zealand for approval to hire overseas workers.

The application has been lodged by Affco Talley, current operators of a plant that has a history in the town dating back 103 years and employs hundreds of workers each year.

It's opposed by the New Zealand Meatworkers Union, but Wairoa Young Achievers Trust youth service manager Denise Eaglesome-Karekare, who is also the town's deputy mayor, has a goal to make sure any shortfall in the available labour force is still able to be filled by those in the town.

Affco Talley's Wairoa meat plant, where migrant labour could be working if the jobs can't be filled by locals. Photo / File
Affco Talley's Wairoa meat plant, where migrant labour could be working if the jobs can't be filled by locals. Photo / File

She's met with current plant management, unrelated to the migrant workforce proposal, but is concerned that young people are unable to find work in their town.

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Asked if the target was to make sure all the Affco jobs are filled by people from the district, when migrant labour would mean extra costs for the company including accommodation in a housing crisis, she said: "That is the goal. Why wouldn't it be?

"They [the management] have been very responsive," she said.

"They [the young people] have got to be workfit, so I have undertaken to work on that. We have got to make sure they are workfit."

Wairoa Young Achievers Trust youth services manager Denise Eaglesome-Karekare. Photo / File
Wairoa Young Achievers Trust youth services manager Denise Eaglesome-Karekare. Photo / File

Meatworkers NZ national secretary Graham Cooke said in a media release the union is concerned about an increasing number of applications for accredited employer status from within the meat industry.

Affco Talley are seeking approval to bring in migrant workers to its Wairoa and Rangiuru plants, but Cooke said: "It's absurd to try to import workers into a community where there are 600 job seekers — especially following past practices of Affco including lockouts of vulnerable workers, and the lack of any training programme to get new local workers employed.

"Given the high level of under-employed or unemployed in the Wairoa district, and the limited ability of a small and relatively poor community like Wairoa to absorb and support new migrants we think Affco is taking the mickey."

He said 22 million lambs/sheep and 2.5 million cattle are processed over a 12-month season which peaks in February/March.

"There is already an over-capacity of killing chains within New Zealand and in our view, the industry requires much more innovative solutions than looking for a cheap supply of labour from overseas."

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The application was confirmed by Affco general manager Nigel Stevens to the Wairoa Star, saying while discussion with Immigration NZ over numbers was ongoing the number was "small relative to our total Wairoa staff numbers".

To succeed with its application the company - which leads to the issuing of an essential skills visa - needs to prove there are no New Zealand citizens available for the jobs or able to be readily trained.

"Our absolute preference is to hire New Zealand workers whenever possible," he said.

"But like other major New Zealand meat companies we find ourselves unable to recruit sufficient New Zealand workers in some regions."