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Recruit workforce from Pacific Islands say farmers

7 April 2008

TODAY the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) released the first in a series of targeted initiatives to fix a shortfall of 100,000 employees across the farm sector – its Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme.

“This builds on our broader strategy under the Labour Shortage Action Plan (released last week) by specifically profiling and targeting horticulture, which is crying out for 22,000 entry-level employees,” NFF President David Crombie announced.

“Horticulture is projected to see major growth in the years ahead. Our solution – sourcing temporary migrants from nearby Pacific Islands for entry-level vacancies – is premised on reciprocal benefits.

“While we must encourage Australians into agricultural careers, and the Government should provide incentives and resources to this end, even if Australia’s record low unemployment fell to zero, domestic manpower could not fill our labour needs.

“Our scheme provides mutual benefit to farmers and workers. It provides new skills and training to employees coming to Australia temporarily – skills they take home. Further, the remuneration received by temporary employees far exceeds what they could earn at home – representing a boost for them, their families and their local economies.

“Horticulture is ideal for on-the-job training. Our proposal would tap into the willingness of farmers to provide additional training as a career path. Indeed, farmers eligible for the scheme would be demonstrably committed to best practice in delivering skills, excellence in working conditions and human resource management.

“Our Labour Shortage Action Plan is an overarching strategy bringing together different solutions targeting different labour and skills needs, with skilled occupations in high demand for cattle, dairy and grain farming.

“But in horticulture entry-level employees without training or experience are by far most sought after. Our Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme recognises the problem in not just a skills shortage, but also a sheer lack of numbers to fill jobs.

“Put simply, the time for this scheme has come. The need for entry-level employees is growing and 2008 figures show the steepest drop – some 14,000 – in farm jobs since the 2002 drought began.

“Meanwhile, horticulture continues to increase production. Horticulture, with a gross production value of over $7 billion, including $1 billion in exports, must not be allowed to fail in reaching its potential, nor sustain losses and collapse when a positive, viable solution is literally on our doorstep.

“We are calling on the Australian Government to adopt our Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme and move quickly in addressing this clear and present need – in doing so, delivering benefits to regional Australia, employees and their countries, alike.”

[ENDS]

The NFF’s Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme and Labour Shortage Action Plan, along with the statistical analysis report Summary of Labour Shortages in the Agricultural Sector, are available online at: Workplace Relations

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

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