Horticulture needs labour solution | OPINION

Horticulture needs labour solution, says Ausveg CEO James


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Horticulture deserves a committed workforce says James Whiteside.

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SOLVING the labour supply challenge must be front of mind for all political candidates based in horticulture-growing electorates ahead of the 2019 Federal Election.

The biggest challenge facing horticulture growers throughout the country is accessing an efficient, reliable and competent workforce.

Improving profitability and productivity is essential to growing the industry's value, which already sits at $11 billion but with substantially more potential.

However, accessing a more dependable workforce is key for horticulture's ability to grow and continue to prosper, all at a time when consumers crave a healthy diet and healthy food options.

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Ausveg, along with other members of the National Farmers' Federation Horticulture Council, have long been advocating for an Agriculture Visa.

So far it has been met with mixed results from the major parties. The Coalition says it is supportive of an Agriculture Visa and will deliver it, but also says it needs more data.

The Labor party is also supportive of a dedicated visa for the industry, but it hasn't seen the detail of what the industry the industry wants - 'the detail' has since been sent to them by Ausveg.

Horticulture deserves a committed workforce.

It is a challenging environment for anybody who would like to pick and pack produce during the night, or out in the elements during the day.

Much of it is hard, tough, physical work.

James Whiteside, CEO, Ausveg

James Whiteside, CEO, Ausveg

If there are local workers who actively want to do the work, chances are they are already employed in the sector; growers would always prefer to employ locals.

While industry benefits greatly from Working Holiday Makers - backpackers - it is not a reliable solution and efficiency can be difficult.

Many backpackers will do their 88-days to 'tick the box' and continue on their travels.

This becomes an ongoing management issue for employers.

In order for the industry to reach its full potential, its needs a quality, efficient and capable workforce. - James Whiteside, CEO, Ausveg

Imagine running a business where you need to replace a large chunk of your staff every three months - to recruit them, induct them and train them, only to see them moving on after only a few months.

The Seasonal Worker Program is a great addition to the horticulture sector, but again, it is not perfect.

There are limitations in how long these workers can stay on-farm and it is a complex process, which excludes growers that don't have the administrative capacity to manage the bureaucracy.

This is why the industry has been calling for an Agriculture Visa.

In order for the industry to reach its full potential, its needs a quality, efficient and capable workforce.

An Agriculture Visa is what the industry needs to progress.

An Agriculture Visa would allow workers from neighbouring nations and South East Asia to work solely in agriculture and stay at least two years, and potentially up to four years, developing the skills they need to help family businesses in their own nation and earning valuable money to take back and support their families.

An Agriculture Visa is what the industry needs to progress.

Ausveg urges all growers to talk to their local candidates in the weeks ahead and let them know about the labour issues on their property as it is crucial for the elected government to commit to and implement an Agriculture Visa after May 18.

  • James Whiteside is the chief executive officer of Ausveg.
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