Nothing new in ABARES survey findings
AUSVEG, Australia’s peak industry body for vegetables and potatoes, has called on the federal government to continue to work with industry to find a solution to its complex labour issue following the release of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and resource Economics (ABARES) farm survey results that confirms the industry’s reliance on an overseas workforce.
ABARES released its ‘Demand for Farm Workers’ report today, which highlights vegetable growers as the largest users of a visa holder workforce, and that horticulture farms used more than double the labour per farm of dairy farms and three times more labour per farm than broadacre farms.
AUSVEG National Public Affairs Manager Tyson Cattle said it was no surprise vegetable growers were high users of overseas workers because they struggle to find a consistent workforce.
“Vegetable farms have a high rate of casual and contract labour because they are harvesting year-round,” Mr Cattle said.
“These are highly developed businesses whose primary objective is to put the best possible produce on the market shelves year-round for the consumer.
“The higher rate of backpackers is obvious, as they usually do their 88-days in a regional area that is required for their second year on their visa to then continue their holiday, but this means growers are replacing a workforce every three months – which becomes a management nightmare.”
“The Seasonal Worker Program is a great program, but of course it has fewer farms using it than backpackers, because fewer farms have a harvest window of 3-9 months. There still isn’t a workable visa option for established businesses who require workers for longer than nine months.”
AUSVEG has long advocated for horticulture businesses to be able to access a reliable, competent and efficient workforce, believing that is key for horticulture to make a greater contribution to agriculture’s target to become a $100 billion industry by 2030.
“It’s not about just putting people in roles and thinking they can do the work. We need the right people, and with the right changes to visa settings, we will see a huge upside,” Mr Cattle said.
“If you have a good employee-employer relationship, why can’t they stay for 12 month, 2 years or longer?
“Imagine running your business and needing 20 employees over 12 months. If you are lucky enough to find even 15, eight may be good, five may need more training and two are just there to tick the box for their 88-days – then after three months, they all leave and you have to start the process all over again.”
AUSVEG believes vegetable and potato growers need access to a skilled workforce who can be efficient and reliable over at least a 12-month period, of which there are currently no visa options, and no local options.
“Growers would love to employ a local workforce, but there are some real struggles in accessing them, from a lack of vocational and higher education opportunities in this space, right down to a lack of local workers wanting to work in horticulture,” Mr Cattle said.
“AUSVEG welcomes ABARES’s report and the work that has gone into it, but the report has reinforced what we have been telling both sides of government for some time.
“We hope now we can get some real action and movement in this space, as there are huge gains to be made in this exciting sector if we get this right.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Tyson Cattle, AUSVEG National Public Affairs Manager
Phone: 03 9882 0277, Mobile: 0427 500 618, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org