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PM wants Auckland 'pumping', business leaders grill him on labour shortages

NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 26 Jan 2023, 11:52AM

PM wants Auckland 'pumping', business leaders grill him on labour shortages

NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 26 Jan 2023, 11:52AM

Business leaders have made a plea to new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to address the shortage of labour that is plaguing employers.

Hipkins is spending his first full day in the job courting businesses in Auckland, including his former political adversary Simon Bridges.

Hipkins attended a roundtable event hosted by the Auckland Business Chamber, the organisation now headed by Bridges, shortly after 10am.

The new Prime Minister described Auckland as the business hub of New Zealand.

“It was a really positive and constructive conversation. I found a really receptive audience in terms of business leaders who wanted to work with the Government,” he told reporters after the meeting.

“They laid down some issues they wanted the Government to be working on.” 

Hipkins said: “It will be no surprise to anyone that labour shortages were at the top of that list.”

“Right the way across the workforce you are seeing skill shortages in the labour market. They have given feedback on wanting certainty in some key government policy areas.”

Hipkins acknowledged that Auckland had spent more days in Covid-enforced lockdowns than the rest of the country and the goal now was to get “Auckland pumping”.

Asked why he chose to visit Auckland businesses today, he said: “I wanted to send a message that the Government is open for business.”

“Our Government is going to be relentlessly focused on supporting all New Zealanders from all walks of live, through what is going to be a difficult time in the economy.”

Businesses also wanted to talk about areas where the Government should do more, as well as areas where it was hoped the Government might step back from its work programme.

“I think the relationship between business and Government is a really important one. it is integral to the economy,” he said.

“We all want to see the economy to continue to grow, the rising tide will lift all boats and that is the spirit in the business community as well.

“One of the things businesses have really welcomed is the apprenticeship boost. They are creating the opportunities and we are backing them to do that.”

Hipkins said business leaders had not raised with him the prospect of slowing down minimum wage increases.

But he noted “we’ve got to acknowledge that minimum wage workers are really feeling the pressure from the rising cost of living”.

Hipkins said he would meet with unions shortly.

Speaking after his first Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Hipkins said he would be there to “ask questions of them and to listen to them, in order to accelerate the important relationship that’s needed between business and government, in order to benefit all New Zealanders and to continue to grow our economy”.

Ahead of the meeting, Bridges told RNZ businesses were keen to see changes to things like immigration settings.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins meets with with CEOs, hosted by Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Simon Bridges. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins meets with with CEOs, hosted by Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Simon Bridges. Photo / Jason Oxenham

“Immigration settings will be there, crime ... inflation and the cost of living,” Bridges said.

He said businesses were happy with Hipkins’ pivot away from former prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s “transformational” agenda, which they saw as “extravagance”.

Bridges said business wanted to see some “clear, crisp simple plans” to solve those problems.

He said the Government needed to realise that it was in competition with the likes of Australia and the UK to attract skilled migrants to New Zealand. It needed to offer something better than those countries to be successful.

Bridges said that pausing wage rises was not necessarily going to come up in his discussion with Hipkins.

“That’s not necessarily on the cards today,” Bridges said.

“Overall the view would be that those at the bottom being paid the least, deserve to be paid more, but the rate and the size of the change has been a huge amount for businesses to swallow,” he said.

He said the top things businesses were keen to see scrapped were the TVNZ-RNZ merger, Three Waters reforms, and the social unemployment insurance scheme.

Hipkins said, ahead of the meeting, that no specific policy changes would be announced and the meeting was more of a listening exercise.

Business may get one of its wishes. On Wednesday Hipkins alluded to further opening up immigration settings to ease labour shortages, though the impacts of the most recent changes appeared positive.

“I just want to reassure New Zealanders that we’ve got this front and centre,” he said.

“I’ll be looking across the range of options to see what more we can do to support Kiwis.”

The Government last year introduced a fuel subsidy, which runs until the end of March, and cost of living support payments. It also introduced a fast-track residency programme, which it further expanded near the end of the year after initially excluding nurses and a range of other highly sought-after health professionals.

Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni is also on the charm offensive, meeting Rosebank Business Association this afternoon.

Hipkins had wanted to spend his first day courting business in Auckland, but has had to alter his schedule to attend the tangi of Titewhai Harawira, which is taking place today.

His planned Cabinet reshuffle and a clearing of unpopular policies is expected to be announced next week.

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