Government must prioritise new Agriculture Visa
16 June 2021
Citrus Australia welcomes the news of a new seasonal agriculture worker visa applicable to all 10 ASEAN countries.
However, Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock says the Federal Government must implement the agriculture visa this year to ensure growers are no worse off under changes made under the UK Free Trade Agreement.
Working Holiday Makers (backpackers) from the UK do not have to work in regional Australia for 88 days to acquire the second year of their visa, under the new FTA arrangements, which is expected to mean a large decline in these workers taking on agricultural work.
To counter this, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced a new agriculture visa for workers from all ten ASEAN countries.
Thousands of British backpackers work in Australia’s agricutlture sector each year and Mr Hancock said the new agriculture visa would need to ensure this shortfall is met immediately.
“The new seasonal agriculture worker visa must be implemented as quickly as possible, and certainly by the stated aim of the end of this year,” Mr Hancock said.
“For many years, industry has been calling for appropriate visas to attract people who want to work in agriculture rather than people who have to work in agriculture to extend their holiday.
“It is regrettable that the ag visa has taken so long to find favour within government. This is only the first step and there are very few details, but the rhetoric indicates we’re moving in a direction industry is comfortable with.
“We can’t help but be cautious in our commentary because industry has been promised an Ag Visa since at least 2018.
“The trade off if we don’t get it right is that we lose a cohort of UK workers.
“It’s a hugely positive move if we get the settings right, and we thank the Minister for taking a stand for industry and insisting on an Ag Visa to offset the loss of UK backpackers who would have contributed to our workforce in the future.
“It saddens me to hear the stories of farmers who are finding it so difficult to find workers at the moment, and the enormous level of stress and anxiety it is causing them.
“COVID-19 has shown the gaps in our workforce and exposed the reliance on a large number of people who are ill equipped for the work, whether they be holiday makers or unemployed Australians. It has shown that farm labour is not suitable for everyone.
“However, if you have chosen agriculture as your career and it is something you want to further yourself in by gaining experience in another country, this visa will result in a better outcome for both the employer and the employee.”
“Change comes too slowly for issues that affect people in rural and regional Australia, but we welcome this change and hope that it is a sign of further improvements.”
Mr Hancock said the proposed seasonal agriculture worker visa would complement the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme, which would remain vitally important to the citrus industry.
“Citrus Australia has been a great supporter of the PLS and SWP since their conception and our support for these will not change.
“We have a great cohort of seasonal workers that return each year to support our growers and our industry. These workers have been particularly important through the pandemic and the acute labour shortage.”
Citrus Australia continues to call for further changes in the labour sector, namely a National Labour Licencing Scheme which would see improvements such as uniform licensing laws that stamp out unconscionable conduct by labour hire companies.
“The current format of some independent state authorities hasn’t slowed down the reports of exploitation,” Mr Hancock said.
“Since establishing the labour hire licencing scheme in Victoria in 2019, it is estimated that the first 4500 applications have created a three-year backlog.
“Government hold significant power in stamping out exploitation and need to show political will and apply appropriate resources to ensure this happens.
“Improved enforcement and compliance activities will help level the playing field within the sector by stamping out non-compliance by properly resourcing the Fair Work Ombudsman and Australian Border Force to actively pursue mistreatment in the sector.”
Mr Hancock said Citrus Australia is also calling on the addition of pickers, pruners and packers to the Horticulture Industry Labour Agreement (HILA) skill level 5 to allow growers with a continual harvest period to be able to access a productive and efficient workforce for up to four years.
“Our Industry also requires a dedicated quarantine pathway which can be accessed by all states, to bring in seasonal workers at scale.”
For further information, contact Stephen Cooke, Industry Engagement Manager, Citrus Australia, on 0427 124 437 or email@example.com