Call for ag visa

Farm­ers re­port staffing strug­gle in peak times

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - News - Natalie Kot­sios news@ru­ral­weekly.com

AGRI­CUL­TURE’S work­force needs can surge by a whop­ping 500 per cent in peak times, new re­search re­veals. The Na­tional Farm­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion’s 2018 farm work­force sur­vey shows farm­ers from all sec­tors – in­clud­ing hor­ti­cul­ture, dairy, beef and grains – are still strug­gling to ful­fil their staffing needs.

The find­ings have prompted the NFF to re­new its call for a ded­i­cated agri­cul­ture visa.

NFF work­place re­la­tions man­ager Ben Rogers said the sur­vey pro­vided a “snap­shot” of the work­force sit­u­a­tion, and re­in­forced the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence of how much farm­ers were strug­gling.

“We’ve been call­ing for a ded­i­cated agri­cul­ture visa for some time now and we think it might be one of the so­lu­tions to this con­stant prob­lem,” Mr Rogers said.

Two-thirds of the 160 farm­ers sur­veyed ranked labour con­cerns as one of their top three is­sues – along­side red tape and em­ploy­ment costs – with most re­port­ing short­falls in skilled, semi-skilled and un­skilled work­ers.

Al­most 90 per cent had work­forces made up of per­ma­nent Aus­tralian work­ers.

Mr Rogers said while there were more re­spon­dents from the grains and live­stock in­dus­tries – as op­posed to hor­ti­cul­ture, which tra­di­tion­ally re­lies more heav­ily on ca­sual for­eign work­ers – the re­sults showed “farm­ers would pre­fer to en­gage do­mes­tic work­ers be­fore they turn to mi­grant work­ers”.

Aus­tralian Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics data shows there were 217,000 full-time and 88,000 part-time agri­cul­ture jobs cre­ated in 2017 – yet in­dus­try says it is still short by al­most 100,000 work­ers.

The Ru­ral Weekly’s sis­ter pa­per, the Weekly Times, re­ported in Fe­bru­ary that back­pack­ers – of­ten used to sup­ple­ment work­forces – are turn­ing away from Aus­tralia, with num­bers drop­ping 60,000 in five years. Mr Rogers said a ded­i­cated agri­cul­ture visa fo­cused on the sec­tor’s needs could help.

“The back­packer visa is prin­ci­pally about cul­tural ex­change and labour is sec­ondary, so when you have things like the back­packer tax de­bate, agri­cul­ture’s needs get lost,” he said.

“The sea­sonal worker pro­gram is great, but ul­ti­mately it is a for­eign aid pro­gram.”

Fed­eral Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud did not an­swer di­rectly when asked if an agri­cul­ture visa was be­ing con­sid­ered, say­ing: “I’m acutely aware of the is­sue of farm labour short­age and I’m work­ing hard to help farm­ers”.

❝The

sea­sonal worker pro­gram is great, but ul­ti­mately it is a for­eign aid pro­gram. — Ben Rogers

PHOTO: FILE

LABOUR SHORT­FALL: The Na­tional Farm­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion is call­ing for a spe­cific agri­cul­ture visa to help fill labour short­falls.

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