National Farmers' Federation

Government fails to protect workers by stalling on agriculture workforce solution

The terrible experiences of three backpackers revealed by the ABC today are shocking to all Australians and have highlighted the deficiencies of the current working holiday maker visa program, for agriculture’s labour needs.

NFF CEO Tony Mahar said the Government must establish an agriculture-specific visa (AgVisa) to help fix the problem.

“Unfortunately, there are individuals who choose to not only do the wrong thing, but to break the law, in their employment and treatment of backpackers.

“The NFF and our members have long drawn these issues to the attention of Government and outlined, in detail, what needs to be done to ensure a safe and enjoyable on-farm working experience. Until now these requests have largely fallen on deaf ears.

“Farmers want to do the right thing. They need labour to get food and fibre into the supply chain and are tired and frustrated that the Government continues to fail to act to adequately protect foreign workers, who make such a valuable contribution to agriculture. A contribution that will be sorely missed this year due to COVID-19 border closures.” 

As fruit picking and the grain harvest looms, farmers are contemplating a workforce without backpackers and other foreign workers. 

There are usually about 144,000 backpackers in Australia at this time of year, 30% of which take up roles in the horticulture sector alone. Right now, there are about 70,000 with many set to return home before Christmas.

Mr Mahar said a contemporary workforce solution like an AgVisa, would both protect foreign workers and address agriculture’s critical workforce shortage.

“The industry has been saying this for years and each instance of mistreatment is another demonstration of why we need something better in place.”

An important feature of an AgVisa is that only growers who can demonstrate their compliance with the law will have access to the program. 

The NFF also strongly supports the farmer-led Fair Farms Initiative, which supports horticulture businesses to demonstrate their commitment to good employment to their customers, workers and the community.  

“Fair Farms was developed by industry to support farmers. It now needs government support to better communicate its features to growers and workers alike.”

Mr Mahar said the NFF also continued its call for improved regulations to govern the labour hire sector, to weed out rogue operators, who, research shows, are too often at the root of the mistreatment and exploitation of farm workers.

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