AUSVEG continues to advocate for growers across a range of workforce issues through both direct engagement with Government and through range of other advocacy groups such as the Food Supply Chain Alliance, and the NFF Horticultural Council.

 

Last week AUSVEG submitted a response to the Job and Skills White Paper which focussed on key areas such as productivity, migration, accommodation, resilient supply chains, labour force participation, and skills, training and education.

 

The AUSVEG submission discussed issues surrounding Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) and the change in legislation allowing WHMs to also undertake their 88 days in hospitality. This change is seeing a detrimental impact to the number of WHMs seeking jobs on farms.

 

AUSVEG is actively pursuing an alternative to the Australian Agricultural Visa which has been dissolved into the PALM program. Across all the current visas available to vegetable growers, none are able to fulfill the vegetable industries unique harvest workforce needs. AUSVEG is pushing for a Harvest Work Visa, an industry specific visa which will enable a competent, flexible, and reliable workforce during peak harvest periods.

 

Following on from AUSVEG’s submission to Building a Stronger Pacific Family: Reforming the PALM scheme Discussion Paper in October this year, AUSVEG continues to advocate for several improvements to the scheme to better suit the needs of our industry. These include:

  1. Improving seasonal worker movement and flexibility to reflect the seasonal nature of horticultural industry.
  2. Expanding the PALM Scheme to focus on underutilised countries in the Pacific such as Timor Leste and PNG.
  3. Better enforcement and more capacity to investigate mistreatment and undertake compliance activities.

 

The Australian Government is consolidating the onshore delivery of the PALM scheme within the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, which is currently seeking feedback from industry. The transfer of responsibilities aims to provide stronger oversight of the operations of the scheme within the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations’ portfolio. AUSVEG will also be submitting a response to the Optimising the PALM Scheme Delivery in Australia discussion paper which is due 13 January 2023. AUSVEG welcomes any input from industry about the change of service delivery and what the changes may mean for the horticultural sector.

 

AUSVEG is also advocating for the introduction of a National Labour Hire Licensing scheme. Labour hire firms and workforce contracting firms play a pivotal role in the horticulture sector in supplying growers with workers. Around 52 per cent of the horticultural workforce is employed through labour hire firms. In 2019-20 this accounted for 52,000 workers during the peak harvest period. It is critical that growers can use these services with confidence knowing that their workers are treated fairly and paid properly.

 

A National Labour Hire Licensing Scheme for the horticulture sector will assist growers to check if a labour hire company is meeting government requirements around compliance. The horticulture sector needs a scheme that is built with integrity and well-resourced to ensure that action is taken against unlicenced operators.

 

AUSVEG supports better resourcing for the Fair Work Ombudsman to continue to audit farms so that we can bring to account unscrupulous employers and labour hire companies.

 

AUSVEG also understand that the accommodation shortage is being felt across the supply chain and is greatly hampering the potential growth of rural and regional businesses and communities. We continue to advocate for accelerated tax write off for businesses to build staff accommodation. We also understand that the variations across states and local government areas is also causing frustration and we continue to advocate for the development of on-farm accommodation guidelines to standardise the requirements.