New Zealand Industry Ire Grows as Closed Borders Worsen Labour Shortages

New Zealand's closed borders have helped keep COVID-19 out of the Pacific nation, but a critical shortage of migrant labour is now fueling protests among businesses and workers struggling with a staffing crisis, Reuters reported. About 2,000 eateries stopped service and turned off lights across on Tuesday and are planning other stop work events as part of a two-month campaign to draw the government's attention to the severe shortages in skilled labour. The labour crunch comes after New Zealand sealed its border in March last year in response to the raging coronavirus pandemic. The measures helped contain COVID-19 locally, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to maintain an elimination strategy that's been lauded globally. But although the COVID-free economy has bounced back faster than expected, its vaccination rate is much lower than developed peers and immigration has hit historic lows, leading to acute labour shortages in a country that relies on low-skilled migrant workers. "Before COVID-19 hit and closed our borders upwards of 25% of our workforce were international work visa holders," Restaurant Association on New Zealand, an industry body organising the protests, said in a statement. "Losing them is enough to make a difference so big that it can affect a business in catastrophic ways," the association said. Some restaurants in Auckland and other major cities temporarily shut due to understaffing or just to give their burnt out staff a break, media reports have said. Adding to business frustrations is the government's reset on immigration announced in May, which would further cut the number of low-skilled migrants when borders eventually re-open, and look to attract more highly skilled migrants and rich investors. Read more.