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NFF launches ‘action plan’ to tackle jobs crisis

3 April 2008

TODAY the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) released its blueprint for overcoming the chronic labour crisis that plagues regional Australia, with the warning that when farmers emerge from drought some 100,000 new employees will be needed to return to pre-drought production levels.

The NFF’s Labour Shortage Action Plan (the Plan) makes 42 recommendations to address the labour shortfall in agriculture as part of the greater problem of regional depletion. Both regional development and a comprehensive population strategy are explored as key solutions to the lack of labour for farm occupations.

“We need a multi-faceted approach to resolve labour shortfalls,” NFF President David Crombie said. “Foremost, we must attract Australians from across the nation to skilled agricultural careers, driven by better education and training and actively engaging job-seekers.

“The solutions we propose are holistic and include regional development, improving human resource management, correcting misconceptions of the sector and migration. Our Plan shows how, in isolation, none of these pose a solution – indeed, on their own, they would do relatively little.

“We profile agricultural careers and the pathways to those careers. In doing so, we address the specific occupations in demand, which spread across all skill levels and subsectors in agriculture. For example, occupations requiring high education levels and experience are prevalent, particularly in the grains, sheep and cattle sectors.

“By contrast, the Plan provides evidence of how the horticulture sector’s needs are entirely different, with major demands for entry-level employees without training or experience. Yet, horticulture offers many training opportunities for entry-level workers to build a career path.

“We have a positive outlook for farming and see vast potential for individual careers. Six of the seven most demanded agricultural occupations require trade-level qualifications or above. Of these, the average earnings across Farm Managers are reported as $84,911 a year, with bonuses of between $500 and $20,000 a year.

“At the other end of the spectrum, Jackaroos are the most highly paid juniors across any sector, including mining, bringing in an average $29,943 a year.

“We’re looking to greater cooperation between industries to broaden the involvement in growing regional Australia. In many cases the population pool is simply inadequate, highlighting the need to develop better infrastructure, promote regional tourism and resettle metropolitan Australians.

“We also need to entice new Australians to the beauty, opportunity and distinctly Australian character of regional areas, while engaging them with the opportunities and sharing the rewards.

“Temporary migration will also play a role in addressing the skills deficit. Most importantly, we differentiate between two entirely different needs. The skilled migration program (including the 457 Visa Program), delivers highly skilled tradespeople, managers and professionals to the sector quickly.

“These skilled people are already in demand. While the education and training of Australians is always preferred, this does take many years to deliver. Flexibility in these programs must be reviewed in order to deliver better outcomes on-the-ground.

“Quite distinct from the skilled labour need is the role of migration in filling entry-level jobs. Firstly, it fills employment needs here in Australia for those jobs Australians are simply not taking up.

“Secondly, it provides new skills and training to workers coming to Australia temporarily. While, in some cases, this may pave the way for longer term migration and higher training opportunities, this pathway begins with the skills they take back to their homeland.

“Thirdly, that the remuneration received by temporary workers far exceeds what they could earn at home, providing a much needed boost for them, their families and their local economies.

“The World Bank has previously backed this concept for these very reasons.

“We also assert the importance of better human resource management – not only to more effectively attract and retain staff, but to ensure better safety, cooperation and productivity at work. It is fundamental to involve staff in the running of farm businesses, in doing so building their abilities and generating opportunities for advancement.

“Our survey, research and on-the-ground findings show that most farmers are very concerned for the wellbeing, prosperity and careers of their staff. This is reflected through remuneration levels that, typically, vastly exceed Award wages.

“Meanwhile, the flexibility and other tangible benefits they provide staff – be it through lodgings, meals, vehicles and training strongly support a healthy workplace ethic of cooperation, focused on mutual benefit. While farmers need flexibility in workplace relations to manage their businesses, likewise they are increasingly delivering more flexible and appealing packages to attract employees.

“The Plan illustrates the growing need for better communication between farmers, farm groups and their constituents, governments, regional communities, commerce and industries. Through these networks, we must promote the opportunities, career paths, benefits, personal and professional rewards modern farming and regional living present to agricultural employees.”

The NFF’s Labour Shortage Action Plan has been presented to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education and Employment and Workplace Relations Julia Gillard and Federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke.

[ENDS]

The NFF’s Labour Shortage Action Plan, along with the statistical analysis report Summary of Labour Shortages in the Agricultural Sector, are both available from this website at: Workplace Relations

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

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