This week the National Farmers' Federation is calling for a broader approach to Australia’s agriculture labour needs with the introduction of a new ag visa designed specifically for the sector.
On the heels of last year’s “backpacker tax” controversy, in April this year the Federal Government scrapped the 457 visa. Agriculture, like many other industries, held its breath.
The Government plans to replace the 457 visa or the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457), as it’s more correctly known, with the new Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa - effective from March 2018.
This week, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) made renewed calls for an overhaul of farm worker visas, as the Seasonal Work Incentives Trial aimed at getting unemployed people into agriculture has had low interest from potential workers in its early stages.
The two year trial was launched in recognition of the serious difficulty growers routinely face meeting their labour needs. It aims to encourage participants to take up short term seasonal work opportunities in the horticultural industry. Commencing on 1 July 2017, it allows recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance to earn up to $5,000 in seasonal horticultural work without jeopardizing their government allowance. It also offers working away from home allowances and incentives for employers to get more people into work.
According to the ABC yesterday, “only 14 people have so far signed up (with more than 100 positions yet to be filled) to the new program that allows unemployed people to earn an income and still receive their full welfare payment.”
While the NFF strongly supports the trial, doubts have been raised that the trial will fix the shortage. Farmers cannot wait until the two-year trial is completed.
The NFF is calling for a new dedicated agriculture visa designed specifically for overseas visitors who work on farms. Ben Rogers, NFF’s General Manager of Workplace Relations & Legal Affairs says, “While seasonal work would be a focus, a broader approach is needed to comprehensively address the very significant labour need within the sector.”
“The visa will not be in competition with Australian job-seekers but will facilitate farmers’ access to skilled and unskilled workers and will help to overcome the heavy reliance of farmers on backpackers and other existing visa that do not fully meet the needs of farmers,” Mr Rogers said.
Growers say they need immediate action to fix worker shortages as the summer fruit harvest ramps up. Farmers cannot wait until the two-year Trail is completed.
"We’ve still got a job we’ve got to do”, Southern Queensland stone fruit grower and Summerfruit Australia president Andrew Finlay told the ABC yesterday.
“The horticulture industry would welcome a labour force who could return every year so we don’t incur the annual major costs involved with retraining [seasonal workers].”
Mr Rogers said, the two programs can complement each other and help to secure a more stable workforce for our 64 billion dollar industry.
More information on the Seasonal Work Incentives Trial, can be found here.