© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People run past a social distancing sign on the first day of New Zealand’s novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety measure that requires masks to be worn on public transport, in Auckland, New Zealand on August 31, 2020. REUTERS / Fiona Goodall
By Praveen Menon
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The closure of New Zealand’s borders has helped keep COVID-19 out of the Pacific nation, but a critical shortage of migrant workers is now fueling protests among businesses and workers in the struggling with a personnel crisis.
About 2,000 restaurants halted service and turned off lights on Tuesday and are planning further work stoppage events as part of a two-month campaign to bring government attention to severe labor shortages. qualified work.
The labor shortage comes after New Zealand sealed its border in March last year in response to the raging coronavirus pandemic. The measures have helped contain COVID-19 locally, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is committed to maintaining an elimination strategy that has been hailed around the world.
But although the COVID-free economy has rebounded faster than expected, its vaccination rate is far lower than its developed peers, and immigration has hit all-time lows, leading to severe labor shortages in a country. country that depends on low-skilled migrant workers.
“Before COVID-19 hit and closed our borders, more than 25% of our workforce held international work visas,” said the Restaurant Association on New Zealand, an agency of the industry organizing the protests, in a statement.
“Losing them is enough to make such a big difference that it can devastate a business,” the association said.
Some restaurants in Auckland and other major cities have temporarily closed due to understaffing or simply to give their exhausted staff a break, media have said.
Adding to corporate frustrations is the government’s immigration reset announced in May, which would further reduce the number of low-skilled migrants when borders eventually reopen, and seek to attract more highly-skilled migrants and wealthy investors.
“If the government does not reverse this policy, more restaurants will close and that is sad, and potentially new and big restaurants will not be able to open because innovators will have a hard time starting to recruit,” said the national president. . of New Zealand Restaurant Association Mike Egan told local media 1NEWS.
Hiring constraints are increasing in several industries, a business survey noted this week, with companies saying they find it more difficult to hire skilled workers.
Workers in essential services are also unhappy. Around 30,000 nurses are expected to quit their jobs later this year in a series of strikes for better wages and working conditions amid complaints of burnout.
“We are facing a national health crisis in terms of staff safety, recruitment and retention; and the working conditions our members face can no longer be endured and that is why our issues are important,” said David Wait, Senior Counsel for the New Zealand Nurses Organization. declaration.
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