WAFarmers has labelled the Federal Government’s 457 visa changes as an opportunity for the agricultural industry to address workforce issues.
WAFarmers President Tony York said agriculture in Western Australia and across the country was in a period of growth and that continued access to skilled workers is required to sustain this.
"There has been a steady stream of skilled workers entering the agricultural sector in recent years on 457 visas, particularly while there was increased competition for skilled labour during the mining construction boom here in WA,” he said.
“While overseas workers are vitally important to the agricultural industry, particularly during the peak working season, we believe sector will welcome the opportunity to train and employ more local workers.
“It is just as important to recognise the skills and potential of the local workforce as it is to acknowledge overseas workers, many of whom come from agricultural backgrounds.
“That said, new restrictions would require applicants to have two years of work experience and higher proficiency in English language skills, amongst other requirements, so we do not want capable workers being disqualified from the new program just because they do not come from farming backgrounds.
“We hope the government’s new visa program will allow the two workforces to complement each other and grow the industry.”
Mr York said WAFarmers agreed with the National Farmers Federation that the changes represented an opportunity for a visa program to be tailored to agriculture and address the workforce needs of industry.
“Further detail is needed on how the changes will affect regional communities and agricultural production, particularly regarding farm labour shortages,” he said.
“We welcome the announcement by the Prime Minister and Minister Dutton that concessions for regional Australia will continue to be available, and hope that these concessions will not only bolster the industry, but encourage workers on the second visa class to stay in regional and rural communities if they apply for permanent residency upon completion of their four-year visa.
“As with the backpacker tax saga last year which highlighted the need for a stable and capable workforce, industry must be informed of how the changes will affect agriculture, but also be involved in discussions regarding the new program.”