Meat in­dus­try sees red in 457 visa changes

Great Southern Herald - - News - Reuben Hale

The meat in­dus­try has warned that the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s scrap­ping of tem­po­rary ac­cess to skilled over­seas work­ers would cause dif­fi­culty for food pro­duc­ers.

Last month’s un­ex­pected ax­ing of the 457 visa scheme for skilled for­eign work­ers has left many in the farm­ing, meat pro­cess­ing and other labour-in­ten­sive in­dus­tries reel­ing about the like­li­hood of the con­tro­ver­sial move lift­ing the cost of pro­duc­tion in al­ready mar­ginal in­dus­tries.

The move will mean the Gov­ern­ment would slash the num­ber of oc­cu­pa­tions avail­able for the twoyear visa by 200 from the cur­rent tally of more than 650.

The cur­rent el­i­gi­ble po­si­tions that will be cut in­clude goat, deer and turf farm­ers, shear­ers, wool buy­ers and classers, stock and sta­tion agents, butch­ers and small­go­ods mak­ers, horse train­ers and jock­eys.

Abat­toirs, food pro­ces­sors, pig­geries, dairy farms and re­gional tourism op­er­a­tors are the largest em­ploy­ers of skilled for­eign work­ers and the big users of the 457 visa scheme out­side of the cities.

The Aus­tralian Meat In­dus­try Coun­cil said there had been a lack of con­sul­ta­tion in the de­ci­sion, re­sult­ing in un­cer­tainty.

The group said the move had the po­ten­tial to im­pact on the fu­ture vi­a­bil­ity of the in­dus­try, which was al­ready un­der pres­sure from ex­ter­nal chal­lenges, in­clud­ing the worst terms of trade on record, high in­put costs and in­creas­ing reg­u­la­tory bur­dens.

AMIC spokesman Pa­trick Hutchin­son said meat pro­ces­sors were the largest em­ploy­ers in ru­ral and re­gional Aus­tralia, af­ter min­ing, and the un­ex­pected an­nounce­ment had sent shock waves through the in­dus­try.

“There are so many ques­tions we sim­ply don’t have an­swers to and quite frankly, that isn’t good enough,” he said.

“We don’t know what oc­cu­pa­tions will be im­pacted, as out­lined by the Fed­eral Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter, and how in turn this will af­fect the in­dus­try.

“We don’t know how the out­comes of the Best and Bright­est test will be ap­plied. We don’t know about what ac­cess the sec­tor will have to the train­ing fund.

“There is also a great deal of un­cer­tainty re­gard­ing the sta­tus of ex­ist­ing 457 visa ap­pli­ca­tions that have not yet been ap­proved.”

Mr Hutchin­son said a num­ber of unique skill sets were re­quired in the sec­tor and a crit­i­cal num­ber of these were filled by em­ploy­ees on 457 visas.

“Re­cruit­ment of staff al­ways has been and al­ways will be about find­ing peo­ple with the right skill set for the job, who are will­ing to work within our in­dus­try en­vi­ron­ment in re­gional and ru­ral Aus­tralia,” he said.

“We are re­lieved that cur­rent 457 visa hold­ers will be un­af­fected by the an­nounce­ment.”

Western Aus­tralian Meat Mar­ket­ing Co-op­er­a­tive Lim­ited chief ex­ec­u­tive Coll MacRury said the de­ci­sion by the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to scrap 457 visas would not hurt its pro­cess­ing busi­ness, but may have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the co-op­er­a­tive more broadly.

“Our Goul­burn plant in NSW is quite re­liant on over­seas labour, but thank­fully we’ve been able to shield our­selves to a de­gree from us­ing 457 visa work­ers in more re­cent times by in­stead em­ploy­ing labour ac­cessed through the Work­ing Hol­i­day visa pro­gram,” he said.

“WAMMCO used to use 457 visa work­ers in the mid-2000s, but the de­ci­sion to move away from do­ing that was driven largely by cost.

“In the end though, this de­ci­sion the Gov­ern­ment has taken is rub­bish for the in­dus­try be­cause it will im­pact on re­gional towns most heav­ily by im­pact­ing on the cost of live­stock pro­duc­tion.”

WAMMCO chief Coll MacRury.

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