National Farmers' Federation

Deegan Review the tonic to most 457 visa ills: NFF

AUSTRALIA’S farm sector could be spared rigid, costly red tape if the Final Report of the Deegan Review into the subclass 457 visa is adopted by the Federal Government. The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) says the recommendations reflect the practical overhaul needed by farmers who employ a growing number of migrant workers. “While our farm sector directly employs almost 300,000 Australians, increasingly we’re looking to overseas workers to fill the chronic labour shortage in rural and regional areas,” NFF President David Crombie explained. “The NFF urged major, but pragmatic, changes to the skilled migration program, especially as it applies to agricultural occupations, and the Deegan Review has made good on that call. We now await the Government’s acceptance and implementation of the recommendations. “The existing 457 visa arrangements are impractical, rigid and excessively costly for farmers and take scant regard of the specific occupations we need to fill. With skills shortages a drain on farm production and growth, and red tape strangling farmers needing migration options, the Review is timely.” The Final Report of the Integrity review makes a numerous recommendations, including the abolition of the artificial Minimum Salary Level. “This is an overdue and sensible approach,” Mr Crombie said. “The NFF has always advocated, and farmers recognise, that a ‘safety net’ is an important element underpinning workplace relations, including for foreign skilled and semi-skilled employees. “Yet, caution is needed to ensure we don’t get into a system of paying Australian workers and foreign workers according to different scales. Replacing the Minimum Salary Level with market rates, underpinned by Australian awards and industrial instruments, is the right way to go. “It is disappointing the Government has summarily rejected the recommendation that migrant workers be granted basic access to Medicare. Migrant workers not only contribute to our economy, but they pay a higher rate of tax to the Federal Government. We considered it fair and reasonable, therefore, that they have access to essential healthcare services. “Our input into the Deegan Review highlighted the importance of regional concessions to agriculture – that is, allowing tradespeople and semi-skilled workers to access the 457 visa. The majority of the occupations farmers are crying out for fall into this category. “However, the Final Report recommends the abolition of regional concessions. In addition to Minimum Salary Levels, the abolition of the regional concession would mean that semi-skilled and trade-level occupations need to be granted access through alternative means. “The Government must address and fill this clear and present need. A broad range of migration solutions is essential to meet labour and skills needs across farm workforces – the challenge before the Government is to put in place appropriate incentives, infrastructure and training resources to encourage Australians to seize these opportunities. “In the meantime, the skilled migration program provides the skilled employees needed in agriculture now. The Pacific Island seasonal worker visa, jointly launched by the Federal Government and the NFF in August, is a tightly controlled trial of the use of foreign, entry-level workers, and, therefore, is quite distinct and separate from Australia’s skilled migration program. “Migration is one of the many solutions to labour and skills shortages that the NFF has developed, interlinking with local solutions to develop a national strategy set out in our 2008 Labour Shortage Action Plan.” [ENDS] The NFF’s three submissions to the Deegan Review are available online at: http://www.nff.org.au/policy/submissions.html[Submissions to Government], while our 2008 Labour Shortage Action Plan is available at: http://www.nff.org.au/policy/workplace.html[Workplace Relations]

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