On Day 1 of his bus tour of Queensland this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered good news for farmers struggling to find workers.
In a visit to a strawberry farm, the PM announced changes to the Working Holiday Visa Programme and the Seasonal Worker Programme – both of which are used by farmers to secure foreign labour.
“The improvements will make it easier for farmers to attract and retain the labour they need,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Fiona Simson said.
The NFF has been unrelenting in its call for a solution to the farm sector’s worker problem.
It’s a terrible that farmers often have to let produce wither and die because they can’t secure the people power they need to get the job done.
“Farmers like David Jennings who last year was forced to leave 350 tonnes of strawberries to rot because he could not find enough workers to pick them. And Perth berry farmer, Anthony Yewers who had no choice but to forsake 30% of his mixed berry crop,”
Under the reforms, working holiday makers (backpackers) will have the option of qualifying for a third year visa (currently it is limited to two) by undertaking an extra six months of regional work during their second year.
Backpackers will also be able to undertake farm work in areas where labour is deemed most required, and have the time of work with a single farmer extended from 6 to 12 months.
Importantly, the age limit for working holiday makers will be extended from 30 to 35 years (from 1 November for Canada and Ireland and with priority to all other countries).
The Seasonal Worker Programme, via which farmers access workers from Pacific nations and Timor Leste, will be extended for all countries from 6 to 9 months. Out-of-pocket costs for employers will be reduced, as will the required onus to prove specific skill shortages.
Ms Simson said the NFF’s strong preference was to see Australians filling Aussie farm jobs.
“However, lots of farm work is labour intensive, not available all year around and therefore not suited to some Australian job seekers.
“The NFF supports multifaceted approach to solving the farm sector’s labour woes.
“We will continue to call for a number of different initiatives, the sum of which is an adequate and fit-for-purpose farm workforce.
The NFF welcomed the visa changes, but said more work was needed – including the introduction of a dedicated Agricultural Visa.
“The NFF is pleased to have the Prime Minister’s support for a dedicated Agricultural Visa and we will continue to work with the Parliament to see the initiative become a reality.”
The NFF also welcomed a $1.5 million investment in ensuring Fair Farms, an initiative of GrowCom, continues to be available to horticulture and other agriculture sectors
The Fair Farms initiative, aims to ensure that workers are treated fairly while they are employed on farm and in pack houses.
The funding will see an Industry Workforce Coordinator engaged for two years. A further $9.9 million will expand the scope and reach of the Fair Work Ombudsman.