The National Farmers’ Federation has called on Government to prioritise action on agriculture’s workforce issues as the Jobs and Skills Summit draws to a close.
NFF President Fiona Simson, who attended the Summit, labelled the event a useful exercise in bringing people together and building momentum for reform.
“As farmers, we’ve been at the frontline of Australia’s workforce challenges for years, and for years we’ve waited for solutions.
“The Summit helped move that conversation forward and achieved some consensus and momentum.
“But I can tell you as farmers we’re a bit sick of talking. It’s critically important that we start to turn all that talk into tangible action.”
What was achieved
Ms Simson said some of the Summit outcomes would help farmers, but warned more needed to be done.
“Increasing skilled migration and simplifying enterprise bargaining will certainly help meet skills gaps, and we commend the Government for promising immediate action on these off the back of the Summit.
“We’re also pleased to have reached a tripartite agreement with key unions and government to implement a range of agreed improvements to skills and training, workplace safety, housing, and the PALM Scheme.
“We look forward to engaging in that newly formed Working Group to fast-track progress on these key issues.
“We also recognise improved flexibility for pensioners wishing to access the workforce, but note this still falls short of calls by the NFF, National Seniors Australia and other business groups.”
The NFF said it shared the apprehension of other business groups on how proposals for multi-employer bargaining might be implemented.
“We’re cautious about any proposal that might lead to a spike in industrial disputes or capture employers and employees who haven’t consented.
“We’ll work constructively with government to promote simpler, more accessible enterprise bargaining, while avoiding perverse outcomes.”
What remains to be seen
NFF said as the Summit ended, it was still unclear how agriculture would fill tens of thousands of roles in the immediate term.
“While much of the discussion at the Jobs Summit centred on migration for highly skilled workers – which is undoubtedly a challenge for agriculture – we are still left wondering how we will plug the yawning gap in lower skilled workers.
“We know the PALM isn’t the answer in isolation. We know domestic workers aren’t here in the numbers we need.
“We need appropriate visa pathways to bring in workers from around the world, and to ensure they’re having a positive experience in regional Australia.
“It’s as though people think if they just ignore this problem for long enough, it will just go away. History tells us it is only getting worse.”
The need for action
The NFF warned that without rapid solutions to workforce challenges, Australia would be vulnerable to price and supply shocks in the food supply chain.
“We know that we’re short at least 172,000 workers across our food supply chain. We’re seeing this manifest in higher prices and supply disruptions on supermarket shelves.
“This isn’t just a farmer problem anymore. It’s a burning cost of living and food security issue that needs urgent attention.
“Farmers have been waiting for answers for years. We waited for the Ag Visa, we waited for the election, and we waited for the Jobs Summit. We’re sick to death of waiting.
“We’ve been feeling the pinch of worker shortages for longer, and more acutely, than any other part of the economy. We cannot be pushed to the back of the queue, it’s time to deliver solutions.”
To view Fiona Simson’s remarks to the Jobs & Skills Summit, click here.