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Australia relaxes backpacker visa requirements

AUSVEG, the peak industry body for the vegetable and potato industry, has welcomed the 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.”

Voice of Horticulture
Peak horticulture body, Voice of Horticulture (VoH) has also welcomed the Federal Government’s changes to the rules around backpacker and working holiday visas.

Chair, Tania Chapman said it was a positive step in the right direction and the industry welcomed every opportunity to fill the huge labour void in the horticulture workforce.

“It is a much better solution than forcing Australians to work in a job that they don’t want,” Ms Chapman said.

“At the end of the day, growers have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in their farms, and producing their crops, and they cannot afford to invest in people who are unable to do the work, or who are not interested in doing the work.”

Ms Chapman stressed that it was not just on the farms that there was a skilled labour force shortage, but as horticulture had boomed so too have opportunities along the supply chain.

“Whether that be in freight or logistics, in agronomic services or the many other industries that service and rely on horticulture – there are a lot of services that require labour,” she said.

“This really is a total win for Australia –a labour force available to harvest the Australian crops and ensure we all have fresh fruit and vegetables,” Ms Chapman said. “And our exports continue to grow, and workers who are spending their earnings in local communities are helping to boost the Australian economy.”

Growcom welcomes Fair Farms funding, visa reforms
Growcom welcomes the announcement of ongoing funding for the Fair Farms initiative by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“The $1.5 million allocation of funding for the Fair Farms Initiative gives industry an opportunity to roll out a practical market recognition scheme that enables farm businesses to demonstrate that their employment practices comply with Australian laws and industry standards,” Ms Mackenzie said.

“Growcom has long been a champion of treating workers fairly in the horticulture industry and continues to make significant steps in assisting growers to meet and demonstrate compliance with workplace legislation.

“We have a zero tolerance for worker exploitation and want to give good growers the tools to differentiate themselves in the market place.”

Growcom has commenced the pilot of the national Fair Farms certification and training, which will give growers the tools they need to treat their workers fairly as well as restoring confidence to customers and the wider community. They anticipate a full roll out in early 2019.

“Growcom has worked closely with state and national horticulture industry groups, retailers and supply chain stakeholders to ensure the initiative meets the needs of all industry members,” Ms Mackenzie said.

The Fair Farms certification scheme offers:

  • A code of practice that clearly outlines what farm businesses must do to comply with employment laws and industry standards.
  • An online self-assessment against the code.
  • Training options.
  • Third party auditing and certification, if required.
  • The Fair Farms announcement was made alongside the Prime Minister’s release of his three point plan for addressing the horticulture industry’s workforce needs.

“Growcom welcomes the acknowledgement of the labour challenges facing the industry and is pleased to see government taking steps to address the issue,” Ms Mackenzie said.

“In particular we are pleased to see reforms to the Seasonal Worker Programme, the work and holiday visa (462) and the working holiday visa (417) which will give growers access to a larger pool of workers over a longer period of time.

“We see these announcements as the beginning of a conversation on how to improve visa settings, whilst at the same time ensuring that all workers are treated appropriately.

“The allocation of funds for an industry workforce coordinator will ensure a whole of workforce solution to our labour issues and we look forward to delivering on this on behalf of the horticulture industry and the Australian government.

“There is nothing we and our growers want more than to have a reliable workforce and for that workforce to be ethically and fairly employed.”

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