Do you want to be a chicken catcher? Or a meat worker in Timaru?

Want a job that doesn’t require expensive qualifications, that will keep you fit, that falls outside the normal 9 to 5 and pays above minimum wage?

Catching chickens in New Plymouth for Tegel can be your bag.

Tegel advertises for people to join his team collecting chickens to bring to the factory. But there are some pitfalls.

The job is physically demanding and core strength is important (“this role requires a lot of bending”). The job would suit someone with an agricultural influence who doesn’t mind getting a little dirty, and the hours are also potentially quite unsocial, starting at either 7:30 p.m. or 5 a.m.

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A job posting for a chicken catcher posted by a recruiting company in 2020 indicated constant lifting and bending throughout the shift, in a dusty, smelly environment with “dim lighting at dark”. This involved traveling to different farms to catch and load live chickens into transport cages.

Another company looking for five chicken catchers offered wages between $21 and $24 an hour, depending on experience, and a premium for overtime.

Catching chickens in New Plymouth for Tegel can be your bag.

123RF

Catching chickens in New Plymouth for Tegel can be your bag.

It has always been difficult to fill some agricultural jobs, with each advantage being outweighed by potential disadvantages such as isolation, long hours and exhausting physical labor.

Now, Covid border closures have exacerbated the problem, excluding crucial foreign workers and deepening a nationwide labor shortage. The dairy industry alone is short by around 4,000 to 6,000 workers, says DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle.

So companies have had to get creative to lure people into jobs they might not have considered.

For the first time, Silver Fern Farms is announcing two fly-in meat processing jobs more commonly associated with Australia’s mining industry – one in Timaru and one in the town of Balclutha, South Otago, which is also short 85 people to work in a new supermarket.

Seasonal jobs are only open to New Zealand residents or citizens and pay a minimum starting rate of $24 per hour.

“Silver Fern Farms Finegand in Balclutha, South Otago is now offering opportunities for enthusiastic individuals who want to commit to a fly-in work arrangement or even a complete relocation to the rural gem that is southern Otago. Otago,” the job posting reads.

“If your family is happy where it is but job opportunities are limited, or you’re earning minimum wage, why not try meat processing?”

People who chose to fly or leave would stay for four weeks, work Monday to Friday and work overtime on some Saturday mornings, then return home for a week off.

Accommodation is provided at a cost of approximately $150 per week.

People wishing to move permanently would receive assistance from the company with moving costs and finding accommodation.

“The South Otago region has great schools, beautiful coastlines, rivers, fruit, wine, Jimmy’s pies, cheese buns – actually, you name it, they have.” says the ad.

Silver Fern Farms touts the charms of South Otago and offers to fly in workers from other parts of the country.

John Bisset / Stuff

Silver Fern Farms touts the charms of South Otago and offers to fly in workers from other parts of the country.

“We are going through one of our toughest years yet to access a skilled workforce and we are currently approximately 550 people short of our transformation network,” said Matt Ballard, Chief People Officer of Silver Fern Farms.

Earlier this month, DairyNZ launched a campaign to “connect dairy farmers and New Zealanders”, aimed at attracting people to the industry. One of the selling points is milk”as career and lifestyle”, with early departures but also early arrivals.

Sirma Karapeeva​, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, says the industry is suffering from a severe labor shortage, with 2,000 more workers needed.

A very low unemployment rate means it’s not easy to get people to move, she says.

“And this despite the fact that the sector offers on-the-job training, solid career paths and very competitive salaries, often above the median salary. Traditionally, the need for manpower would be met by recruiting seasonal staff from the Pacific Islands, but this too is proving difficult due to Covid-19.

Red meat processors cannot operate plants at full capacity without adequate labor, which means less work available for people, less ability to add value to products, and less product put on the market.

Meat processor Alliance Group is trying to fill 200 to 300 positions as it heads towards its peak production period.

“People who were attracted locally are still attracted, it’s more that we don’t have the same base to draw from,” spokeswoman Renee Walker said.

“We have to get creative with how we fill the gap in numbers that we can usually recruit.”

The company launched a referral program this week by paying a one-time $600 incentive to existing employees who referred someone for a seasonal factory position, if the new employee stayed for a minimum period.

Silver Fern Farms has a similar program, “Muster your Mates,” which rewards existing staff for successfully referring new employees.

Silver Fern Farms raised its minimum wage to $24 an hour last year, and Alliance raised the minimum wage it pays to $24.50 an hour.

It also tries to attract and retain university students, who return home to the regions for university holidays and work at the local meat factory as summer jobs, and employs people from the Cook Islands.

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