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Seasonal Workers: Key to Sustainable Agriculture

28 March 2006

The critical labour shortage affecting Australian agriculture is so debilitating that it hamstrings our farmers’ ability to achieve their full productive potential – and this will only become more chronic into the future, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) said today.

In a submission to the ‘Senate Inquiry into Pacific Region Seasonal Contract Labour’, the NFF identifies the need for a range of bold initiatives to resolve labour shortages, particularly regarding seasonal workers. One of those initiatives includes the consideration of a seasonal worker visa program, which is the subject of the Inquiry.

“The NFF supports the introduction of a seasonal worker visa program with neighbour Pacific countries in the event that our agricultural regions cannot access sufficient farm-skilled labour through other means,” Duncan Fraser, NFF Workplace Relations Committee Chairman, said.

“NFF has advised the Senate Committee of a range of issues that we believe need to be addressed by the Inquiry to determine whether, in some instances, a seasonal worker visa is necessary to ensure that the agricultural sector has a consistent and reliable workforce to meet seasonal demands.”

Those key issues include:

Which regional areas will continue to experience labour shortages despite the introduction of any new initiatives, other than a seasonal worker visa program?

What lessons can be learned from international experiences with seasonal worker visas?

Is a seasonal worker visa program economically viable?

What is the outcome of a cost benefit analysis for agriculture in relation to its current workforce, Pacific region workers and Pacific region countries?

“We have outlined the basis upon which such a seasonal worker visa could operate, while establishing strong safeguards to achieve positive outcomes for all,” Mr Fraser added. “Those criteria include labour market testing, employment for a short-term period, provision of training, only for pre-approved employers, the ability to return during a subsequent season, and compliance with all Australian workplace relations laws.

“Our conditional support of the introduction of a seasonal worker visa must be viewed in conjunction with the range of recommendations from the NFF Labour Shortage Action Plan, released in September 2005.

“The Plan identified that seasonal labour shortages are a consequence of both the failure of employers to effectively link with and attract prospective employees, as well as the sheer absence of prospective employees all together. It is, therefore, necessary to address the problem on both fronts.”

NFF acknowledges the opportunity provided by the Federal Government for the agricultural industry to put their case for a seasonal worker visa program to the Senate Inquiry as NFF has been calling on the Federal Government to establish a mechanism for a feasibility study into the concept for a considerable period of time.

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

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