The Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) is the united voice of intensive and irrigated agriculture in Queensland. It is a federation that represents the interests of 21 peak state and national agriculture industry organisations and engages in a broad range of economic, social, environmental and regional issues of strategic importance to the productivity, sustainability and growth of the agricultural sector. QFF’s mission is to secure a strong and sustainable future for Queensland farmers by representing the common interests of our member organisations:
- Cotton Australia
- Nursery and Garden Industry Queensland (NGIQ)
- eastAUSmilk (formerly QDO)
- Australian Cane Farmers Association (ACFA)
- Turf Queensland
- Queensland United Egg Producers (QUEP)
- Queensland Chicken Meat Council (QCMC)
- Pork Queensland Inc
- Tropical Carbon Farming Innovation Hub
- Queensland Oyster Growers Association (QOGA)
- Peak irrigator groups across Qld
The food and farming sector is important to Queensland’s balance of trade, the employment of nearly 1 in 7 Queenslander, and across the state farmland supports the economic and social base of many rural and regional communities. The Jobs and Skills Summit provides an opportunity for government and industry to work together to address the chronic labour shortages that are currently impacting the future of agriculture.
The outcomes of the Summit will inform the Employment White Paper which will help to shape the future of Australia’s labour market through the development and implementation of short, medium and long-term reform.
Attracting and retaining the right staff has been a challenge for many years across the agriculture sector and COVID-19 has exposed some particular workforce weaknesses and exacerbated these issues for farmers and in fact, for most businesses across the State. Over the past twelve months, QFF has worked closely with Jobs Queensland and the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance (RJSA) to understand the critical issues and to develop an Ag Workforce Plan https://www.qff.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/20220629-Qld-Agricultural-Industry-Workforce-2022-27.pdf to inform and guide future policy and strategic work to build a strong workforce for agriculture over the next 5 years. In support of the key components identified in the Plan, QFF calls out the following critical priority areas as we work together to build a stronger future workforce for agriculture:
Effective Migration Program
Immigration has traditionally accounted for approximately one third of the increased skills required of the Australian economy and it is expected that this requirement will accelerate over the coming years. Skilled migrants have significantly contributed to skills and knowledge transfer, international connections for Australian businesses and has been shown to have had a positive effect on local worker participation and wage growth. With a loss of over 600,000 migrants since 2020, it is expected that Australia will be playing catch up in regard to net overseas migration until 2024. There is an urgent need for immediate reforms to migration system and substantial change over the long term.
- Establishment of a short-term immigration program to help industry get through the workforce crisis over the next 18 – 24 months including fast tracking the processing of the existing backlog of visa applications.
- Building a long-term immigration strategy that compliments Australia’s domestic workforce and promotes alignment between temporary and permanent skilled programs to ensure that appropriate pathways are created to migrant permanency and citizenship.
- Promote Australia as a destination of choice for migrants (skilled and unskilled) to build on the recovering global interest in migration to Australia.
- Improve the administration of the migration system to break down current difficulties experienced by both migrants, businesses and families in navigating the system.
National Housing Strategy
The current housing shortage is exacerbating the workforce challenges. With most parts of Queensland currently experiencing 0% vacancy rates, it is incredibly difficult to attract and retain workers when it is so difficult for people to find somewhere to live. Many farmers are trying to develop adequate on farm accommodation for their workers, but are struggling to navigate the complex and often weighty local and state government planning and other legislative requirements. Any future workforce growth strategy must go hand in hand with a plan to grow housing options and availability.
- Work with the states, local government and industry to develop and implement a national housing strategy that will alleviate short term housing shortages and build a robust, diverse housing provisions particularly in the regions.
- Support industry to co-invest and progress a diversity of appropriate housing and worker accommodation solutions.
Industrial Relations Revitalisation
- Continue support for industry-led initiatives that support improved employment practices and help businesses to develop organisational people management skills.
- Instigate a national labour hire licensing scheme consistent with the model currently being implemented in Queensland.
- Simplify the complexities of the current industrial relations legislation to promote a positive, collaborative culture between employers and employees and ensure emerging employment practices support productivity boosts which underpin sustainable wage growth and workers’ economic security.
Industry Responsive VET and Tertiary Sector Reform
In addition to the workforce shortages currently being faced, there are structural changes taking place across the economy including digitalisation and the onset of AI and automation, climate change, the shift to renewable energy, growth in the services and care sector, an aging population and increasing ESG expectations and reporting requirements. The agricultural sector needs an agile training environment to ensure future workforces have the skills to support a sustainable, cost-effective food producing system to be able to secure food security. A shared vision and coordinated approach underpinned by an industry responsive training sector to increase productivity growth is critical to increasing real wages and supporting sustainable farming in the future.
- Work with the VET and Tertiary Sector to become more responsive and able to adapt to the changing needs of industry and better integrate training with employment pathways.
- Fast track the development of industry led micro credentials, industry accredited training and recognition of prior learning opportunities.
- Work with industry to establish an agricultural apprenticeship program with a clear training and employment pathway.
- Formalise in school education, awareness and engagement in the agricultural sector.
To learn more about the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance visit the QFF website at www.qff.org.au/projects/rural-jobs-skills-alliance and to see some of the tools and supporting resources QFF’s industry and government collaborations have developed go to www.qff.org.au/resources.
Further details of the work QFF, RJSA and Jobs Queensland have collaboratively achieved can be found at www.qff.org.au/projects/agriculture-workforce-plan.
QFF is committed to working on behalf of its members with government and other key stakeholders to achieve an improvement in immigration settings, industry led VET and Tertiary sector reform, increased workforce participation, productivity gains and worker security along with a simplification and revitalisation of the industrial relations system to build a strong agricultural workforce for the future.