AUSVEG, the peak industry body for the vegetable and potato industry, has welcomed today’s announcement by the Prime Minister of changes to the current visa programs that are helping Australian growers manage their labour struggles.
Changes to the Working Holiday Maker program will let backpackers qualify for a third year in Australia by performing additional work in regional industries like agriculture, and will raise the age limit for program participation from 30 to 35 years. The program will also be amended to allow workers to stay with the same agricultural employer for a full year, giving growers access to a more stable workforce.
The Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP), which allows workers from Pacific Island nations and Timor Leste to live and work in Australia across multiple work periods, will also be modified to extend each work period to nine months and reduce out-of-pocket expenses for employers.
“It’s great to see the government respond to calls for reform by making these improvements to the visa programs which are currently helping growers manage their labour issues,” said AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside.
“Backpackers are an established source of labour for Australian farmers, and allowing them to work for longer periods at a single farm will help our growers retain a more stable workforce throughout the year.
“Making it easier for growers to be a part of the SWP is a welcome improvement to a visa that’s already providing value to our growers and supporting our regional neighbours.”
AUSVEG was also supportive of Growcom’s Fair Farms Initiative and was pleased to see the program acknowledged with a $1.5 million funding boost. Fair Farms is an industry led initiative which aims to ensure growers have the tools and information to implement proper employment practices.
AUSVEG has also reiterated its support for a dedicated Agricultural Visa, emphasising the need for a holistic approach to solving the labour struggles facing Australian agriculture, as has been proposed through the National Farmers’ Federation Horticulture Council.
“The best worker on any farm is one who wants to be there, and these improvements to existing visa programs are a good step towards providing a more enthusiastic, engaged and reliable labour force for Australian agriculture,” said Mr Whiteside.
“We’ll continue to work to get a dedicated Agricultural Visa that provides Australian growers with willing workers and ensures our produce reliably gets from the field to the supermarket shelf year in, year out.
“As part of this effort, growers should keep showing the government how important it is they get the workers they need, including by registering job vacancies with the National Harvest Labour Information Service.”