Govt set to restrict migrants
By COLIN ESPINER Political editor – The Press
Last updated 05:00 25/03/2009
The Government is poised to cut the number of migrants entering New Zealand on temporary work permits as it comes under pressure to save Kiwi jobs during the recession.
Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman yesterday promised to investigate the case of 28 workers at MCK Metals Pacific in New Plymouth who were made redundant last October while Filipino welders kept their jobs and had their temporary work permits renewed.
The Press revealed this month that jet-boat manufacturer CWF Hamilton had laid off 28 Kiwis while retaining 24 migrant workers on temporary contracts.
At the time, the Government indicated it had no plans to limit the numbers heading to New Zealand on temporary permits, despite the Australian Government announcing it would cut 20,000 places from its skilled-migrant category to protect Australian jobs.
Coleman said he expected the Department of Labour would ensure that fewer migrants entered the country on temporary permits during the recession.
“As you've got the recession getting worse, New Zealanders are increasingly available,” he said.
“It's going to be a situation where temporary migrants won't be having their permits renewed and won't be getting new permits either, so there won't be new migrants coming in.”
Asked if the Government was essentially turning off the temporary-migrant tap, Coleman said: “Yeah, it is a tap you can turn on and off, but we've got to bear in mind that long-term, New Zealand needs immigration and there're certain skills we will always be short of.”
New Zealand takes 45,000 permanent migrants each year, most through the skilled-migrant category. Thousands more arrive on temporary permits to work in industries where their skills are deemed by the Labour Department to be in short supply.
Before the permits are issued, employers must prove to the department that they have searched for New Zealand workers for the jobs and that no available New Zealand worker could be suitably trained for the task.
Coleman said that did not appear to have happened in the MCK Metals case, and he had ordered an inquiry by the department.
Coleman said he understood the Filipinos were originally hired to work with aluminium, but after their contract ended the firm was keen to retain their skills so moved them into steel work that the New Zealanders were doing.
“From what the department is telling me, if they had known that MCK Metals were to be laying off people in the near future, these Filipino welders wouldn't have got an extension on their work permits,” Coleman said.
“I've asked for more information on that because it has to be jobs for New Zealanders first, and you wouldn't be renewing permits in situations where you've got New Zealanders able to do the work.
“We're very concerned about these New Zealand welders losing their jobs and we want to make sure that they've been treated fairly.
“The indications at the moment are that that may not have been the case.”
Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national secretary Andrew Little, who is representing the laid-off New Plymouth workers, said the union was seeking more information.
“We are asking why the migrant workers on short-term visas appear to have been given priority over long-term workers, able to give a long-term commitment to the company, who have been made redundant,” he said.
Labour leader Phil Goff said it was unacceptable for Kiwi workers to be laid off if they could do the job.
MCK Metals chief executive Pramod Khatri said last night that the nine workers from the Philippines were hired in October 2007 to do specialised aluminium welding and polishing when the firm was unable to get skilled New Zealand workers.