The Federal Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, has announced that delivering a new special farm workers visa in time for the current picking season will be one of his top priorities.
Littleproud has been meeting with the Minister for Immigration, David Coleman, about the possibility of introducing a new skilled worker visa aimed specifically at recruiting farm workers to aid during the busy picking period that lasts from May to August.
Earlier this month Littleproud threw his support behind the new proposal, saying that “agriculture has a huge shortage of labour, particularly for picking, and an agricultural visa can help address that.”
“We need a specific farm visa so farmers and those who want to work on farms don’t have to wade through multiple different types of visas.”
“When I became Agriculture Minister last December, I made it a key priority to deliver an agriculture visa for this picking season,” Littleproud said.
Currently, the proposal is said to involve a short-term multiple-entry visa without any labour market testing or requirement of sponsorship, with the workers being allowed to move between employers within the agriculture sector.
According to the president of the National Farmers Federation (NFF), Fiona Simson, if the new agricultural visa is not introduced soon then growers will struggle to attract the workers necessary for fruit picking season.
“An Agricultural Visa would cater specifically for the acute skill shortages facing agriculture, including fruit pickers and packers. Our sector already relies heavily on migrant labour,” Simson said.
“Research and experience demonstrates that we need migrant workers to meet the farm sector’s needs. Many agricultural tasks are short-term and/or seasonal. Often these arrangements aren’t attractive to local workers, who have ongoing financial commitments and longer-term career aspirations.”
“We believe citrus will be one of the big winners in the recent Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) and nectarine growers are already benefiting for improved access to China. However, if we don’t have the people-power needed to get fruit from paddock to plate, the complete benefits of these opportunities won’t be realised,” she said.
The CEO of Growcom, David Thomson, also offered his support for the agricultural visa in a column published earlier this month by Fairfax Media.
“While Mr Littleproud did not provide details, he indicated that government was aiming to initiate a trial later this year. Portability is fundamental to the success of such a visa whereby entrants would be permitted to move between employers (provided they work in the agriculture sector) during their stay,” Thomson said.
“We contend that only employers who demonstrate sustainable workplace practices should be able to access visa workers and one mechanism to achieve this would be through the Fair Farms certification scheme.”
The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, was enthusiastic about the proposed agricultural visa, although he cautioned against introducing a new immigration program without ensuring there is an enforceable compliance system in place.
“There is a great deal of exploitation within the agricultural sector, so any program would need to ensure that sponsored workers are protected, and that the correct compliance system is set up and enforceable for the new visa,” Lingham said.
“The fishing Industry already has a specific labour agreement in place, so why shouldn’t the agricultural industry have a similar program?”
“However, I’m not sure that free reign between farms is the right answer. Ultimately, someone still needs to be responsible for the well-being of these workers while ensuring they are paid,” he said.
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