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Taking their skills abroad

Kaitiakai Nursing New Zealand recently rebutted a claim from Te Whatu Ora chief executive Margie Apa that nurses are paid “on par” with Australian counterparts – and the issue flows much further than nursing.

“What this means is that our nurses will be on par – dollar for dollar – with their Australian counterparts,” Apa said in a December media release.

The publication said Kiwi nurses in Australia and New Zealand Council of Trade Unions [NZCTU] economist Craig Renney said the comparison didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Registered Nurse [RN] Eve Sud, who works at a secondary hospital in Brisbane, told Kaitiaki the rates provided by Te Whatu Ora only accounted for one component of pay, were not based on the same working hours per week, and relied on a Queensland pay scale that was two years out of date.

“Like a lot of RNs, a considerable portion of my pay is supplemented by working ‘penalty’ shifts [i.e. nights and weekends], and penal rates are more favourable in Australia.”

In addition to this, a fulltime equivalent role in Australia is based on a 38-hour week, while for New Zealand, it is a 40-week, Sud said.

She said the numbers simply did not add up.

Meanwhile, I have been told of recruiters struggling to bring skilled workers, like mechanics, into New Zealand.

“If you can get a visa for New Zealand, you can get a visa for Australia – why would you come to New Zealand if Australia pays so much better?” someone mentioned to me in conversation.

It looks like New Zealand is being hit with a double whammy – firstly, people leaving for better opportunities abroad, and secondly, not competing strongly enough in the labour market with other nations.

New Zealand Immigration currently lists engineers, construction workers, healthcare workers, scientists, and tradespeople within its long-term skill shortage list.

Within my own social circle, at least six young, skilled workers have headed abroad – two of them held mid-grade jobs in an industry with long-term worker shortages.

While six people does not seem to be a lot, dozens more are planning to leave, mostly citing the cost of living or feeling as though they have outgrown opportunities within Aotearoa.

Long has it been a rite of passage to leave our small island[s] nation, but what is more concerning is the possible number of people who will never return.

Many people in their early-to-mid-20s have spent their post-university [or apprenticeship] years working and were unable to leave the nation because of covid-19 restrictions.

However, these people are now leaving with a few years of experience under their belts, something they would not have had if they had simply left immediately after college or university.

Now, people who have had a few years gaining skills in their trade will be vanishing. That’s not to say that this didn’t happen before, but it does seem to be a very public issue now.

So, as nurses are reportedly leaving for better conditions elsewhere, and skilled worker shortages continue, it’s about time someone figures out how to keep young people, or at least convince them to come home one day.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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