11 August 2020
The future of the Working Holiday Maker program
Working holiday makers are an important piece in the employment puzzle that growers and industry face every year.
Citrus Australia acknowledges there are more unemployed Australians due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and welcomes more Australians to seek employment in rural and regional centres.
Removing the Working Holiday Maker visa at this time would only add to the pain Australia faces as a nation.
“You don’t simply fix one problem with another. Throwing out the Working Holiday Maker program goes against all advice. Government must keep all options open when it comes to finding people to work in agriculture,” said Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock.
“The need for programs like the Working Holiday Maker program and the Seasonal Worker Programme were developed and supported by federal governments over the years because the need existed; industry could not find workers no matter the unemployment rate, and I am afraid under current policy settings that will remain the case,” Mr Hancock said.
The Australian citrus industry contributed almost $900 million to the GDP through farm gate sales in 2019. It is a major employer in regional and rural Australia, employing Australians and backpackers on Working Holiday Maker visas.
Citrus Australia deplores under payment or mistreatment of employees and has called for national labour hire licensing and regulation to address the loopholes that can be exploited by unscrupulous labour hire companies and to reduce the compliance issues for those that farm across state and territory borders.
“We want that type of activity stamped out, it is the actions of a tiny minority that pulls down the reputation of the majority who do the right thing.
“Australia is one of the highest, if not the highest paying countries for this type of work. There is room for Australians, working holiday makers and seasonal workers to be employed in agriculture,” Mr Hancock added.
Employment in agriculture has supported working holiday makers during COVID-19 restrictions when no other government support was available.
Working holiday makers use employment in agriculture to extend their rights to stay longer in Australia, it’s not their first choice. Industry has been calling for a special agriculture visa that attracts international workers interested in agriculture.
“These simplistic statements by the unions show how out of touch they are with the issue at hand,” Mr Hancock said.
“There’s long been an underemployment issue in agriculture, it is tied to the seasonal nature of the work, the long-term internal migration of Australian’s to the state capitals and has little to do with the few rogue operators that industry wants to see stamped out.”
The unions’ ‘solutions’ ignore the key issues Australians face when working in these seasonal roles, of the lack of short-term accommodation options in regional and rural areas, and the clash of priorities for transient workers who have a family.
The horticulture industry is facing a huge drop in available workers as the workers from the Seasonal Worker Programme and the remaining working holiday makers in Australia return home.
“If there aren’t people to pick the fruit and vegetables, whether it’s because the unions get their way and strip tens of thousands of workers out of the workforce, or because there simply aren’t the workers available due to COVID-19, then the inevitable result is a shortening of supply and an increase in demand, and every Australian will pay for it at the supermarket.”
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