Farmers submit ‘break glass’ plan to get workers on farm

Farmers need urgent action from government to address what is now a critical worker shortage.

The National Farmers’ Federation’s Horticulture Council this week provided governments with 10 measures to attract displaced Australians to farm work and to safely restart the meaningful recruitment of foreign workers.

A depletion of the foreign labour force – seasonal workers and backpackers – has left farmers anxious about how they will pick and pack this year’s crop or even whether they should plant for next season.

NFF CEO Tony Mahar said governments were aware of the problem and what was needed to ease farmers’ labour challenges.

“Well before COVID-19 the NFF and our members have been calling for measures to address the farm sector’s worker shortage. The situation is now much worse with Australia’s international borders closed and internal border movement highly restricted.

Mr Mahar said the Federal Government’s decision to allow each state to ‘opt in’ to a controlled restart of targeted recruitment via the Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme was a positive step but really only amounted to tinkering at the edges.

“We also welcomed a commitment by National Cabinet to develop NFF’s proposal for a national Agriculture Workers Movement Code but wait with bated breath for its satisfactory delivery.”

The NFF’s 10-point approach outlines immediate-, short- and medium-term measures to both attract Australians to farm work and begin a controlled and COVID-safe restart to foreign worker visa programs.

“In an ordinary year, farmers rely on a combination of local and foreign labour to get the job done.

“Ideally, this year we’d like to see Australians, especially those who have been displaced from their pre-pandemic jobs, fill roles performed by backpackers and seasonal workers, but the reality is more support is needed to attract the required number of local workers,” Mr Mahar said.

The proposed measures aim to provide temporary workers in regional areas with assurances that they will be supported, safe, and have full access to essential amenities and entitlements while minimising the risks posed to individuals, businesses and communities from COVID-19. The overall outcome will be to strike a much-desired balance between fairness, safety, and economic prosperity.

The NFF Horticulture Council’s 10-point approach includes the following measures:

1. Seasonal Worker Program Pilot Extension

2. Incentives for domestic displaced workers

3. Agricultural Workforce Code introduction

4. Promotion of opportunities to work in agriculture

5. Accommodation support

6. Establishing a National Agricultural Workforce Development Network

7. National Labour Hire Regulation

8. Working Holidaymaker Restart

9. Agriculture Visa

10. Horticulture Industry Labour Agreement (HILA) additional occupations

To better quantify agriculture and horticulture’s workforce shortage, the NFF is reminding farmers to detail their workforce needs for the year ahead in this short survey

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