AUSVEG, Australia’s peak industry body for vegetables and potatoes, has welcomed Wednesday’s announcement of the establishment of a new National Agriculture Labour Advisory Committee from the Minister for Agriculture, Senator the Hon. Bridget McKenzie, but warns that the committee and the government must act now to address the problems that growers are facing on-the-ground to attract a reliable and competent workforce.
The new committee will provide advice on how to secure a sustainable workforce, which is vital for growers to be able to plant, harvest and package fruits and vegetables and will be critical for the industry to remain cost competitive in an increasingly global market for fresh produce.
The committee will be chaired by public policy specialist John Azarias, with Professor Ruth Nettle from The University of Melbourne and former New South Wales Senator John Williams serving as Deputy Chairs. Leading vegetable grower and 2016 AUSVEG Grower of the Year Rob Hinrichsen is also a member as the committee’s sole grower.
AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside said the establishment of the committee was welcome, but the issue of ensuring that horticulture growers have access to a reliable and secure workforce was immediate and needed urgent action.
“Horticulture growers, not just those in the vegetable industry, need a secure workforce to ensure that they can plant, harvest and package their products to local and international consumers,” said Mr Whiteside.
“Horticulture is a developed industry and needs a legal, reliable, competent and efficient workforce, just like any other industry in Australia. It requires skilled people, whether they are local or from overseas, to help drive this $13 billion industry forward.
“Growers always prefer to employ a local workforce, but there are considerable barriers in accessing them, from a lack of vocational and higher education opportunities in this space, to a lack of local workers willing to work in horticulture.”
In Wednesday’s announcement, Minister McKenzie noted that the committee will provide a strategy by July 2020 that identifies tangible actions that should be considered to ensure the agriculture industry has the workforce it needs to meet the challenges of the future.
“It is critical that any strategy into developing a secure agriculture workforce has industry front-of-mind. While we acknowledge the committee’s appointment of Rob Hinrichsen, a leading grower well acquainted with many of the issues, a broad range of growers and industry stakeholders must be consulted so that growers’ needs are adequately considered and addressed,” said Mr Whiteside.
“AUSVEG looks forward to working with this committee, the Minister and the government to implement tangible, effective actions to address the industry’s crippling labour shortage. There are huge gains to be made in this exciting sector if we can get our labour issues sorted quickly and successfully.”