Labour is an ongoing, complex and challenging issue for our sector. Labour costs are generally a decreasing proportion of total farm costs, but in some industries, they can be the critical farm input for a profitable business. While the ag visa continues to be a start/stop exercise, the Australian Government did announce some useful reforms to the Seasonal Worker Programme, the work and holiday visa (subclass 462) and the working holiday visa (417) last week.
In a positive step to tackle labour shortages in the agriculture sector, the age limit of visa holders has been increased to 35, visa durations have been extended, visa places available for work and holiday makers (462) have been increased and they will be eligible to work in additional priority areas. The government is also committed to preventing the exploitation of workers and increasing the participation of Australian jobseekers in vacant roles. These reforms are likely to increase the numbers of overseas workers which will help fill the workforce gaps farmers currently face.
Together these programs must be flexible enough to ensure that the sector has the workers it needs, and good workers are able to work on a more permanent basis. Allowing farmers to share workers across industries with compatible seasons and production cycles should enable continual employment and exposure to various businesses. These programs must also consider the seasonality, locality and characteristics of the work available while reducing red tape and offering training incentives for workers.
But importantly, these reforms must not be seen as ‘job done’. There is still much to be improved to address the needs of the sector. As the facilitator of the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance, the Queensland Farmers’ Federation will continue to have constructive input into how we best address the issue of current and future workforce needs. Our sector’s future depends on realising a workforce fit for purpose that is ethically and fairly employed.