WITH the summer fruit season fast approaching, the National Farmers Federation is pushing the Federal Government to establish an agriculture visa to assist growers to get crops off.
While buoyed by Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud’s recent comments in support for an Agricultural Visa, the NFF says change needs to happen swiftly with peaches, nectarines, mangoes and cherries all being harvested over the coming months.
NFF president, Fiona Simson, said this season, growers will again struggle to hire the workers they need to pick the fruits of their labour.
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“An Agricultural Visa would cater specifically for the acute skill shortages facing agriculture, including fruit pickers and packers. Our sector already relies heavily on migrant labour,” she said.
Ms Simson said the industry was committed to developing a domestic labour force but this alone was not the answer.
“Research and experience demonstrates that we need migrant workers to meet the farm sector’s needs,” Ms Simson said.
"Many agricultural tasks are short-term and/or seasonal. Often these arrangements aren't attractive to local workers, who have ongoing financial commitments and longer term career aspirations.”
Ms Simson said Australian fruit was in high demand internationally.
“We believe citrus will be one of the big winners in the recent Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) and nectarine growers are already benefiting for improved access to China,” she said.
“However, if we don’t have the people-power needed to get fruit from paddock to plate, the complete benefits of these opportunities won’t be realised.
“We thank Minister Littleproud and his Government colleagues for their support for an Agricultural Visa.”
Growcom chief executive officer, David Thomson, echoed the support for an ag visa in his weekly Fairfax Agricultural Media column.
“While Mr Littleproud did not provide details, he indicated that government was aiming to initiate a trial later this year,” Mr Thomson said.
“Portability is fundamental to the success of such a visa whereby entrants would be permitted to move between employers (provided they work in the agriculture sector) during their stay.
“The visa would not be employer-sponsored or feature labour market testing.
“We contend that only employers who demonstrate sustainable workplace practices should be able to access visa workers and one mechanism to achieve this would be through the Fair Farms certification scheme.
“We need to ensure the new visa is delivering the workers we need, when we need them and these workers are subject to the highest ethical employment standards.”