EASTERN states farmer bodies have welcomed an expansion of the working holiday visa for British backpackers under the proposed Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement, including new ag visa developments.
The Federal Government yesterday said working holiday visa makers going to the United Kingdom or coming to Australia will get expanded rights and will now be able to stay for three years with an increased cut-off age of 35 years.
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said the NFF was also encouraged by the Federal Government’s commitments to the development of an agribusiness visa and specific ag worker visa.
“The ag visa must not only make up for the shortfall in backpacker farm labour, but address the growing shortage of farm workers.
“The NFF will need to see more detail on how an AgVisa and the flagged agribusiness visa will work, and when, because we have heard this one before,” Ms Simson said.
Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud has reportedly said an ag visa would be available to Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Brunei and Cambodia.
AWU sees more worker exploitation coming
However, the Australian Workers Union has said the ag visa development seems “custom-designed to exacerbate the already rampant abuse and exploitation happening daily on Australian farms.”
“If the government goes ahead with this abhorrent proposal exploitation and abuse on Australian farms will explode,” AWU national s3ecretary Daniel Walton said.
“Much of the labour shortfall on farms could be made up quickly by providing Australian-standard wages and protections.
“Where there are still gaps, programs like the Pacific Labour Scheme and the Seasonal Worker Program are much better than simply opening the gates to vulnerable Southeast Asian workers without adequate rights and protections,” he said.
NSW Farmers gives qualified support for visa deal
NSW Farmers president James Jackson said the development of ag visas for workers from the UK and ten ASEAN nations as part of the trade deal is welcome news.
“It appears that working holiday makers from the UK will no longer be required to work on farms before being eligible to extend their stay.
“This potentially could inspire an increase in backpacker numbers post international border restrictions, considering UK backpackers made up around 25% of working holiday makers extending their stay into a second year,” he said.
“This might be good news in the longer term for harvest and skilled labour, but it will not address the immediate need for farm workers in NSW.”
Ag visa is a huge breakthrough – VFF
The Victorian Farmers Federation today welcomed reports that the Federal Government will introduce an agriculture specific visa.
The VFF said the visa will provide Australian farms access to workers from the UK in addition to the ten ASEAN nations.
VFF president Emma Germano said farmers had called for and been promised such a visa for too long.
“This has been a long time coming and is a huge breakthrough for industry.
“The labour shortages we have faced in the past 18 months are well known but broader issues with labour supply and quality have been ongoing without a solution for years,” she said.
The VFF said details on how the visa will work are yet to be released, but industry must be consulted to ensure it is fit-for-purpose.
“In additional to its original intent the visa will also now need to replace the more than 10,000 UK backpackers that will no longer be required to complete 88 days of farm work under the deal struck in the Aus-UK FTA,” Ms Germano said.
“Labour shortages are being experienced across every agriculture industry sector.
“From milkers, livestock farm hands, pickers, packers, machinery drivers; everyone is having trouble finding labour,” she said.
“Right now we need smart policy solutions for a wicked human capital problem and I hope this decision opens the door to a resolution.”
If there is a shortage of labour, why would the AWU object to working holiday visas? These visas are a win-win-win. The farmer gets the job done – happy, the worker gets money, then goes home – happy, and the taxpayer isn’t lumbered with Medicare and Centrelink payments – happy. The Pacific Island workers are a good example. So why is AWU such a party pooper?
Someone in the Philippines is a licensed agriculturist with a major in animal science — graduated in 2019 — but no working experience as yet because of the pandemic. As she can be a livestock handler and Victoria has labour shortage, I fervently request that the government will consider accepting applicants with no working experience under the agriculture specific visa.