Temperatures may be chilly in Southland, but there’s certainly warmth in the community where over 100 farmworkers have been placed in employment by The Regions.
It’s hard work on a dairy farm. Just ask Milan Gole, a Nepali farm assistant who began working on a Southland dairy farm almost two months ago. But, with hard work comes enjoyment, and an appreciation for the country he’s beginning to call home.
Ask Milan what the highlight of his day is and you get an honest response. “Work is work, but the beauty of my work is my teammates and my employer. It’s hard work but with lots of jokes and laughter you forget all the pain!”
Milan is one of the growing number of Nepali farm workers The Regions is bringing to New Zealand to fill the country’s increasing agricultural labour shortage. To date, over 123 farm workers have been placed in employment throughout the Southland region, part of The Regions Community 500 initiative developed in response to the Southland Regional Development Strategy, Te Iwi Me Oranga Rauemi (SORDS) to place 500 new people in Southland by 2025.
Ben De’Ath, co-founder and managing director of The Regions, says Southland’s exponential growth has far outweighed its population. “New Zealand’s agricultural labour shortage is reaching crisis point and it’s areas of the country, such as Southland, where that lack of experienced labour is felt most keenly.
“We set up the Community 500 initiative to show our commitment to bringing a skilled, loyal and hardworking labour force to the region. We’ve had a great response from both our Filipino and, more recently, our Nepali community of farmworkers wanting to establish a life and career for themselves in the south.”
Milan is certainly one of those farmworkers relishing in his new role at Checketts Dairies Ltd in Mossburn. “Since arriving in New Zealand I have been meeting friends and my employer is very nice to me. I am really enjoying New Zealand dairy farming life with beautiful views of Southland.”
Fleur Worker, The Regions key account manager for Southland and South & West Otago, helps to ensure farm workers, like Milan, settle into their new place of employment. “All the guys we bring out here have at least two years of experience in either Saudi or Qatar,” she explains. “Most of them have between five and 15 years of experience in varying departments, so we’ve had a fantastic response from employers hiring these farmworkers. They love them!”
Fleur says the growing Nepali community in Southland is already benefitting the region and will continue to do so. “They have a wonderfully caring and supportive culture and a love of people. They come with great experience and compliment the Kiwi culture, as well as the other cultures found in the teams. The Nepali farmworkers we have brought out to New Zealand believe life here is truly a dream come true and are very humbled to be here. They want to work hard and earn their place.”
Contributing to the success of placements, like that of Milan, is the pastoral care support provided by The Regions. Mina Chhetri, pastoral care team member for Southland, moved to New Zealand from Nepal in 2014, and works with Fleur to oversee the smooth settling in of Nepali farmworkers and their families.
“There’s a real unity and friendship within the Nepali community here in Southland,” says Mina. “Everyone takes good care of each other and I am there to provide that pastoral care and support to ensure they have everything they need. The community is growing in numbers, people have lots of friends here and some families are reuniting as well. I feel very proud to be helping Nepali people fulfil their dream of a life in New Zealand.”
Family reunification continues to remain a challenge with long waiting times for visas, but a bigger challenge is helping Nepali farmworkers adapt to the Southland climate. “They come from hot weather to very cold, so we are helping them to cope with that change,” says Mina. “We ensure the houses are warm and that they have enough warm clothes.”
Word is clearly getting out that Southland is an all right place to work. “We have been bombarded with amazing and experienced Nepali farm workers who are keen to call New Zealand home,” Fleur says.
And for Milan, the beauty of New Zealand’s nature and the warmth of the Southland community are helping him settle into his country of residence. Once his family arrive, he’ll be able to call New Zealand home.