National Farmers' Federation

Farmers need comprehensive worker solutions not political point scoring

The National Farmers’ Federation has today reiterated the need for a suite of measures to make sure Australian farmers can get products to consumers both here and overseas.

“Farmers must have a secure and reliable supply of workers to make sure they can look after animals, get the crop off trees and out of the ground as we work towards Christmas. As we see borders opening up, so to, are the retail and tourism markets. We simply must do better in the workplace arena,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.

“Misguided and cheap attempts to attack farmers by unions and Senator Kristina Keneally, today demonstrate they do not understand the complexity of the ag workforce and the challenges farmers face. It’s blatantly obvious they are seeing the opportunity to make political gain out of a critical situation facing both workers and employers.

“What we need is constructive solutions not political showboating,” Ms Simson said.

The Agricultural Workforce Visa (Ag Visa), announced by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud earlier in the year, is one of many tools needed in the kit to address the exacerbated labour shortage facing many rural businesses across the country.

“We need Government officials to do everything in their power to make it a reality,” Ms Simson said.

The NFF has, for many years now, lead the charge on measures to assist in addressing the labour challenges. Public calls for greater enforcement and compliance support for both employers and workers, stronger engagement with the Fair Work Ombudsman and participation in their industry reference groups has been on the top of that list.

Other critical measures, such as a national labour hire licensing scheme, would address the concerning issues we have unfortunately seen where unscrupulous ‘so called’ labour hire firms are not doing the right thing by farmers or workers. However, the delivery is taking too long and we have again written to Minister Michaelia Cash asking that this be urgently addressed.

Many farms rely on labour hire, but they need to know that the providers are legitimate and look after their workers. That’s why we have been calling for national regulation for years, and it has been on the government’s agenda, at least since the release of the Migrant Workers Taskforce report in March 2019.

Farmers want hard working employees to be looked after and treated fairly. If that is not the case, then the businesses that are doing the wrong thing need to be prosecuted with the full force of the law. They shouldn’t be in our industry.

Providing a positive and safe experience for farm workers is a core tenet of the overall workforce solution that is required and is of paramount importance to the NFF.

Other initiatives such as expanding the Seasonal Worker Program to provide more workers is a step in the right direction. It is of paramount importance that the State and Federal Governments work in partnership to mobilise this important workforce, along with working holiday makers, when they are able to travel again.

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