An outfit called the Productive Economy Council is sounding a warning against sending migrant workers back home as firms reduce staff numbers.
Just what influence the council wields is open to conjecture, and it is probably pissing in the wind. There are strong feelings on this one – a groundswell of xenophobia, you might say, as jobs become harder to hold on to and find.
But the council makes sense when it says the government needs to think carefully before deciding to limit temporary work visas for skilled migrants or interfere with the retention decisions of companies.
As Alf see it, the government (a) wants to give bosses more flexibility with employment decisions and (b) it is urging the rest of the world not to erect protectionist trade barriers to protect local businesses as they grapple with the effects of the global recession.
Moreover, it is paving the way for the rest of the world to invest in this country, because we need their money.
On the other hand, there is sympathy in National ranks for the idea we favour our own workers – we should send foreigners packing and make it harder for them to come here.
But we would yelp – wouldn’t we? – if other countries kicked out Kiwi workers and sent them home, where they would swell the numbers of people looking for work.
The council statement on the migration issue followed the recent case of MCK Metals Pacific Ltd in New Plymouth, which made New Zealand workers redundant while Filipino workers on temporary work permits kept their jobs.
Prime Minister John Key then said that while the skilled migrant quota helps the economy, migrants should not get jobs at the expense of local workers and Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman has said the Government might use limits on temporary work visas as a way to control labour demands during the recession.
But Productive Economy Council spokesman Selwyn Pellett says the government needs to consider the reasons why a productive company chooses to retain migrant workers over local workers, which should be the “skilled migrant” status of the workers.
“Many companies are facing long term issues here,” says Pellett. “The global economy has tanked, their markets have dried up and they need to think about how their companies can survive the immediate downturn while remaining in a strong position to exploit opportunities in their core markets when business picks up.”
Often this means asking highly skilled people to do lesser jobs to retain their skills within the company.
Pellett went on to say “the high tech sector” has only been able to survive in New Zealand thanks to skilled migrants. Without them we would progressively lose over $2 billion in exports generated from that sector alone.
Pellett suspects those figures apply in other elaborately transformed export sectors.
He reckons now is the time to attract more skilled migrants, not less.
“Many of our most productive companies have struggled to attract skilled workers in recent years due to the booming international market. Right now talented people are displaced all over the world and the smarter countries will be working out how to get them contributing to their economy in the next ten years instead of having to compete against them,” says Pellett.
“We need these skills as part of larger strategy of counter cyclical investment in productivity and competitiveness, and if we can’t get them locally then it is in the interests of all New Zealanders for us to recruit them on the international market. The last thing we need to do right now is be seen as a country that treats its migrant workers as disposable,” says Pellett.
“One entrepreneur, for example, can create 500 jobs in just a few years but they often have to turn to skilled migrants because the skills they need to grow the business simply haven’t been available locally.
‘Jobs for Kiwis first’, is an appealing line for any politician to push, but it’s of no value if the short term gain results in a long term loss as companies are left less able to compete on in the global market. Protecting jobs for Kiwis should be a long-term plan, not a short-term knee jerk reaction.”
“Cutting back on skilled temporary migrants as an anti-recession measure is old world thinking. If we are all sitting around hoping for a return to the way things where then I suggest we are all going to be bitterly disappointed,” says Pellett.
“The world has changed and probably for the better. There is now a global focus on productivity, bottom-line profits and cash flows generated from active investments rather than tax havens for inflation based wealth generation or complicated financial tools that lead to this economic meltdown.”
He noted the irony of National campaigning on a platform of employer choice via the 90-day trial period, which his council strongly supports. But it appears to think the government can better decide for a company which workers it should keep in a recession.
”It serves nobody to force a company to dismiss the workers that deliver the competitive edge that keeps the doors open.
“If you want jobs for Kiwis then the companies that provide them need to survive. So let the employers make the hard decisions now to protect the employment future of New Zealanders in the long term,” says Pellett.
A bit of information at the end of the media release tells us the Productive Economy Council represents “a growing community of people that wish to see New Zealand return to the upper end of the OECD in terms of GDP per capita”.
It should have a huge membership, if this be so. Alf thought virtually nobody would oppose that objective.
The council was founded by four of the former Trustees of the Hi Growth Project including the current President of the Hi Tech Association Wayne Norrie; former executive of the Hi Growth Project, Garth Biggs; Former Chairman of the Hi Tech Association and entrepreneur Selwyn Pellett; and APEC Business Advisory Council, Co-chair Technology & Information Working Group, John Blackham.
The HiGrowth Project was supposed to be a catalyst within New Zealand’s information and communications technology industry for facilitating growth towards the ICT Industry goal of contributing 10% of GDP by 2012.
The goal was set in the ICT Taskforce Report, one of a raft of task forces set up under the previous government.