September 1, 2008

Farmers Angry at Tighter Rules for Filipinos


THE Immigration Service has tightened its rules on allowing Filipino dairy workers into the country, frustrating dairy farmers just at the start of the milking season.

The farmers say the new interpretation of the rules came without warning and has left them struggling to cope with extra workloads.

As many as 500 Filipino workers have been caught by the change, leaving farmers and the suppliers of workers puzzled.

The Labour Department said the change brought practices in its Manila office into line with its offices in other countries.

Up till July 28, Filipino assistant herd managers had to have either the equivalent of level 2 of the National Certificate in Agriculture, which is a one-year entry course, or two years' work experience on a dairy farm. Now, they have to have both.

Immigration Placement Services spokesman Bruce Porteous said the need for farm experience had caught out the workers he was contracting from the Philippines.

"Most have a four-year animal science or veterinary degree, the equivalent to a Massey or Lincoln qualification, but the dairy industry in the Philippines is quite backward and their work experience is not up to New Zealand standards."

When they came to New Zealand they adapted quickly, however, and had proved reliable.

Federated Farmers vice-president Frank Brenmuhl said the Filipinos were popular and willing workers.

"Farmers want them, they fit the bill and there should not be a bar to letting them in," he said. "The only alternative is to go to Work and Income, but nine out of 10 of the people they send us we have to send back."

He had received no sensible response when he asked the Immigration Service why it had made the change. "It seems they've done it just because they can." He would have further discussions in an effort to change officials' minds.

The service could not have picked a worse time to change the rules. Calving was well under way and the milking season was beginning.

Mr Porteous said he had been contacted by many farmers desperate to get workers. "It has affected hundreds and now they have been left high and dry, having to try to find unqualified and unsuitable workers locally, if they are lucky."

Farmers were "outraged" that the rules had been changed in a "high- handed manner on a whim".

The Labour Department said farmers and agents had to ensure they were recruiting suitable people.

"A farmer who hires a vet with no practical dairy farming experience will not be getting the experienced dairy farm worker they need to fill the role of assistant herd manager.

"There have been instances of workers recruited as assistant herd managers on the appropriate salary who have been told when they arrive in New Zealand that they will be paid as dairy farm assistants because they do not have enough practical dairy farming experience to be an assistant herd manager," a spokesman said.

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