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Help, don’t hinder, our ag workforce say farmers

26 February 2013

A decision by the Federal Government to tighten the rules pertaining to 457 visas could make it even harder for Australian farmers to find employees, the nation’s peak agricultural representative body said today.

Chair of the National Farmers’ Federation’s (NFF’s) Workplace Relations Committee, Charles Armstrong, said the Government’s decision could ultimately hurt Australian farmers.

“As it is, Australian farmers are already struggling to find employees and while many opportunities exist for Australian workers to fill job vacancies on Australian farms, the uptake of these opportunities is often low,” Mr Armstrong said.

“As a result, farmers are forced to look to overseas workers to help fill the labour void.

“Backpackers are already one of the most important sources of seasonal work for farmers, particularly for fruit picking and crop harvests, but due to the short stay nature of their visas, backpackers are unable to stay and work on farms for longer periods of time.

“The 457 visas provide a potential solution, which is why the NFF has been calling for the extension of these visas to the agriculture sector. Unfortunately, what we are seeing is a tightening of the 457 visa program, adding further restrictions on the availability of labour for agriculture and potentially impacting on our sector’s ability to produce food and fibre.

“Given the purpose of 457 visas is to help Australian businesses source the skilled workers they need when they are unable to find suitable skilled labour domestically, we would like to see the visas extended to cover skills not already included – including those required for agriculture.
Ultimately, we would also like to see the outdated ANZSCO codes revised to reflect modern agriculture employment,” Mr Armstrong said.

The NFF has long been at the forefront of findings solutions to the agricultural labour shortage.

“It was an NFF proposal to the Government that saw the establishment of the Seasonal Workers Scheme, which facilitates workers from the Pacific Islands to come to Australia to work in seasonal horticulture jobs, providing much-needed assistance to Australian farmers while also upskilling the workers so they can take their training back to benefit the Islands,” Mr Armstrong said.

“The NFF is also spearheading the National Agribusiness Education, Skills and Labour Taskforce, which brings together key organisations from the education, agricultural and government sectors to work towards a collaborative solution, including the development of a National Workforce Development Plan. Critically, 457 visas could play an important role under this Plan in helping to solve agriculture’s labour shortage,” Mr Armstrong said.

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