A group of farmers working on the rural fringes of Melbourne are pushing to be added to the postcode list that controls where backpackers can work as a means of qualifying for a second-year extension on their WHM visa.
The farmers claim they are struggling to find local workers and deserve the same rights as other Australian farmers. Their call to action already has the backing of AUSVEG VIC, an industry representative body for vegetable and potato growers, as well as the Victorian Farmers Federation.
However, the Federal Agricultural Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has publicly questioned the need for farmers on the urban fringe to be added to the list.
In a statement addressing the issue a spokesperson for Joyce’s office said that farmers working in the peri-urban area already had access to a large body of local workers, unlike their more isolated rural counterparts.
She said that while peri-urban farmers were free to hire WHM visa holders to work on their farms, the work does not currently count towards the 88-day requirement that it is needed to qualify for a second-year visa.
“If peri-urban farmers offer good and fair working conditions, there is no reason why they could not employ backpackers,” she said.
“The second-year working holiday visa … is aimed at encouraging working holiday-makers to get out and experience regional and remote Australia and all it has to offer, while making a vital contribution to the economies in those regions.”
The spokesperson also discussed the new season worker incentives trial—a program that allows young workers the opportunity to earn $5000 picking crops without it affecting their Centrelink payments—saying it will be made available to peri-urban farmers.
Presently, the postcode list excludes all large farms in Melbourne’s west and southeast, as well as those located on the Mornington Peninsula, and according to the Department of Immigration is “geared towards resolving labour market access issues”.
The Victorian farmers say they want to see the list to be expanded, or the policy changed so that WHM visa holders can work on any Australian farm as a means of qualifying for a second-year visa extension, regardless of location.
The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, also voiced his support for an expansion of the postcode list, arguing that it should be made available to any area that is suffering from skill shortages.
“The working holiday maker visa program has contributed significant value to the Australian Agricultural industry, and it is our view that there is no reason why the list of postcodes couldn’t be expanded into other areas where farmers are reporting skill shortages,” Lingham said.
“We believe that there is no benefit to disadvantaging overseas workers when comparable salary rates and conditions are offered. Therefore, it is our view that a genuine need exists for these farmers, especially in relation to the industry’s ongoing staffing challenges.”
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