What does 2019 have in store?

It is already clear that legislation changes in 2019 will significantly impact employers. The raft of changes introduced by the Employment Relations Amendment Bill will be in force by May – however late last year the Government also introduced proposals that, if they come into effect, will dramatically affect the process around employer-assisted temporary work visas.

The Government says the proposals have two strategic objectives: firstly, for employers to place more New Zealanders into jobs, and secondly that temporary migrant workers, when they are employed, are not exploited and have wages and conditions that are consistent with New Zealand values.

Key proposals include:

  • introducing a new framework for all employer-assisted temporary work visas
  • replacing the Essential Skills in Demand Lists with Regional Skills Shortage Lists
  • introducing sector agreements with sectors which rely heavily on migrant labour
  • improving the alignment of immigration, welfare and education systems.

One of the critical changes the proposals would introduce is replacing the current essential skills in demand lists. However, it will affect all skilled and lower-skilled temporary migrant workers and employers across the six employer-assisted temporary work visa categories.

Around 20 percent (47,000) of the 230,000 temporary work visas issued in 2017/18 were employer-assisted, where an employer can demonstrate through labour market tests that there are no suitable domestic workers available. The Government says that the current system is complex and does not respond sufficiently to sectoral or regional differences in the labour market. The new framework will combine the six visa categories into one and will switch from being migrant-led to be employer-led.

It is proposed that compulsory employer accreditation is introduced for all employers who want to recruit temporary migrant workers. The Restaurant Association’s biggest concern here is the cost that employers will face as a result of the new accreditation programme. New fees would be introduced and would include a transfer of some costs from migrants to employers, as well as a ‘more general increase in fees’ to reflect accreditation requirements.

Accreditation will require employers to demonstrate that their business practices:

  • Incentivise training and upskilling of New Zealanders
  • Put upward pressure on wages and conditions
  • Meet minimum immigration and employment regulatory standards to minimise the exploitation of migrant workers
  • Maintain the integrity of the immigration system

The Government says that while the new framework would initially require more administration (and cost) for most employers, the changes will make the overall process faster and will support better compliance and assurance processes.

For employers on the premium accreditation level, the maximum visa duration for lower-skilled workers is extended from one to three years for migrants if the job is in a region that has a tight labour market and there are no significant infrastructure constraints.

Another benefit is the proposal that no labour market test will be needed for workers paid a sufficiently high remuneration, although as an industry sector with generally lower than average wages, it remains to be seen if many employers will be able to benefit from this proposal. The Government generally consider that the higher the remuneration, the higher the skill level.

The skills shortage lists will be recast by region when they are published next in April 2019 and renamed as Regional Skills Shortages (RSS) lists. The Government says this will better reflect the skill shortages that exist in the regions and provide a stronger signal to temporary migrants of opportunities in regional areas.

Sector agreements are also proposed to be negotiated with representative industry bodies, including the Restaurant Association. Once in place, it is proposed the agreements will be made compulsory for employers seeking to recruit migrants in that sector.

The agreements aim to provide certainty for employers in industries, like the hospitality industry, that rely heavily on migrant workers. In return for that certainty, employers will need to make commitments including the commitment to employ more New Zealanders over time and reduce their reliance on migration. The agreements would set out specific occupations covered by the agreement, employer accreditation standards, how the labour market test will be applied, required wages and conditions, caps on the total numbers of migrant workers that can be recruited, training commitments and any special regional or other considerations. Of benefit to the hospitality industry, this would also address situations where standard visa application processes and the ANZSCO framework don’t adequately fit the skill and occupation structure of the sector.

The Restaurant Association welcomes a review of the current visa system, as feedback from members is that change is needed. We’ll be actively advocating for changes that assist our member businesses with the least compromise. Consultation on the proposals is open until March to all individuals, groups and organisations. The Restaurant Association will be surveying members on the proposals to help inform our submission, but members are welcome to contact us with their opinions and feedback at any time.