Rachel Smalley: Little's 'Chinese chefs' serve win to the govt

Author
Rachel Smalley ,
Publish Date
Thu, 17 Mar 2016, 7:41AM
Andrew Little speaks to IT students in Auckland, February 2, 2016 (Getty Images)
Andrew Little speaks to IT students in Auckland, February 2, 2016 (Getty Images)

Rachel Smalley: Little's 'Chinese chefs' serve win to the govt

Author
Rachel Smalley ,
Publish Date
Thu, 17 Mar 2016, 7:41AM

Labour Party leader Andrew Little believes a large inflow of semi-skilled migrants is putting pressure on the jobs market and Auckland in particular. 

MORE: Little's immigration stance 'not the solution'

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He has a point. We have low-wage growth in this country. If your salary hasn’t increased a lot in recent years, part of the problem is the high level of immigration. We also have a reasonable level of unemployment in this country, and we have a housing shortage.

Immigration is a key contributing factor in all of those problems.

In a bid to illustrate his point, Little has looked to the hospitality industry, and he's used chefs as an example.

At any given time, 200 qualified Chinese-food chefs can work here on a temporary work visa. This is part of the China free-trade agreement. Little says we should be employing New Zealand Chinese - the assumption being there are 200 Chinese chefs in this country who could do those jobs. I'm not sure that's the case, but there we go.

In recent times, Labour has pointed the finger often at our immigration levels.

You may remember: David Cunliffe, when he was Labour leader, spoke on immigration too. He suggested we "cherry pick" the very best, that we be more selective about who we let in to this country. I think we already are.

I’ve spoken before about my dealings with the immigration department, and the hoops I had to jump through when I returned to New Zealand with a foreign husband. Yes, it's a different criteria to what we're talking about here, but what I can at least tell you the immigration process is robust. It took months for him to be granted a resident's visa. And the criteria for a work visa is even greater. It's a very, very thorough process.

That said, I do think our immigration 'rate' is a valid discussion point.

We do need to grow our population. We do need more skilled people entering this country to help grow our economy. Look at Christchurch, where some of the foreign engineering expertise we've had in that city over the last five years is among the best in the world. Immigration is important. It's vital.

But is our population growing too quickly? Do we have the infrastructure to support that level of growth? And what impact is it having on our economy? On wage growth? On housing?

They are all valid questions. But Andrew Little didn't couch his argument in the right way. No-one gets too hot under the collar about Chinese chefs. And, of course, it has allowed the government to accuse Little of targeting the Chinese, and of suggesting a race-based policy.

And that's another win for the government.