Australian agriculture can’t flourish without foreign workers

April 26th, 2018 | | industry

Migrants are stealing jobs from locals. How often do we hear that refrain? It comes from all parts of the political spectrum — from Right-wing anti-immigration groups to Left-wing unions. And it is simply untrue.

For every person who complains there are no jobs out there, there would be a dozen others complaining they can’t fill roles — both skilled and unskilled. For many rural enterprises — farms, garages, transport companies, builders and other trades — the idea that there is a huge bank of locals to fill roles is absurd.

In fact, it is now estimated there are 100,000 jobs in regional Australia that can’t be filled, with many of them in agriculture. And a report last week indicated an extra 120,000 workers would be needed within the next six years in agriculture to take advantage of the opportunities that would come from international trade agreements. Those are staggering figures.

In many cases, locals don’t want those jobs, and it has been the trend for a while now. Arduous jobs such as fruit picking — long hours in the sun where reward is based purely on effort — have lost their attractiveness to jobs such as cafe work, where you have plenty of paid downtime to show your new Che Guevara tattoo to a bearded colleague.

There is such little appetite for farm labour among locals that a two-year $27.5 million seasonal work incentive program which enables unemployed people to earn up to $5,000 picking fruit and vegetables without losing any dole payments has attracted only 217 participants in nine months.

And to think the government has capped the trial at 3,800 participants each year … that’s wishful thinking. You can’t help, then, but chuckle when there is such outrage over getting workers from overseas. Frankly, without those workers, fruit and vegetables won’t be picked, cows won’t be milked and crops won’t be harvested. The latest move to fix the issue is to establish a special ag visa.

After fluffing around so as not to offend their “base” — whatever that is — the federal Nationals and Liberals have realised we need foreign workers. Of course, part of the reason farmers face a labour crisis is because of the ham-fisted attempt by the federal Coalition to introduce a backpacker tax in late 2016. In a move to raise a measly amount of money, the dills managed to scare off thousands of willing young workers as word spread throughout the world that they weren’t welcome in Australia.

The idea for a new ag visa would be to specifically attract foreign workers to work on farms for a specified period. When the employment period was over, the workers would head home. There is a proposal that 40 per cent of their earnings be held until they leave the country, to ensure no one tries to stay on illegally. There would also be the ability for them to return to Australia a number of times — such as each harvest season.

While a lot of the jobs that would be filled under an ag visa would be unskilled, there is also growing concern around filling the highly skilled jobs that will be needed in agriculture. Being in agriculture no longer means only sitting on a tractor all day or digging a hole for a fence post. Technicians, analysts, managers, commodity traders — there is a huge opportunity out there.

Skilled or unskilled, foreigners are not taking our jobs. What we are really losing is a chance for our country to prosper and take advantage of the global dining boom.

Ed Gannon is publisher of The Weekly Times and co-host of The Ag Show on Fox News Business


2 Responses

  1. Macca says:

    The Working Holiday Visa must be allowed to match this new visa such the removal of working for the one employer for six months. If he or her has been trained for a particular job and wishers, should be allowed to stay longer or to go a come back to that particular job/employer

  2. John George says:

    There is a massive amount of agricultural work that is short term, a few days here, a couple of weeks there, a month here until this vineyard is pruned, with a small number of workers doing these jobs and being picked up by 417 visa holders. This type of work will never suit the Ag Visa as described above anymore than it does locals or Pacific Islanders.

    Holding back a percentage of wages leaves these workers vulnerable as the pay is not huge to start with, and accommodation, food and transport costs and tax will suck up the balance.