The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) says the Jobs and Skills Summit is an opportunity to address one of the root issues stunting Australia’s farm sector: chronic labour shortages.
The NFF has released its priorities ahead of the Summit, identifying four core barriers to securing skilled and unskilled labour, and offering up practical and achievable solutions.
NFF President Fiona Simson, who will represent the farm sector at the Summit, said farmers had struggled to fill skilled and unskilled jobs for years – an issue intensified by COVID-19.
“Even before the pandemic, farmers were reducing plantings or shifting to less labour-intensive produce,” she said.
“Recent weather has thrown curveballs at food production. Couple that with issues like the workforce crisis, and the result has been gaps on supermarket shelves, families struggling with the price of food and weakening food security.
“This goes to the heart of the cost of living in Australia. Governments can’t control the weather, but they can ease the workforce crisis,” Ms Simson said.
The NFF has identified four key challenges that must be acknowledges and addressed at the upcoming Summit. These include the complexity of the industrial relations framework; failings I the migration system; lack of support for agricultural skills development; and community perceptions about the nature of farm work.
“We have real challenges and we’ve waiting a long time for solutions. We’re going into the Summit being honest about those problems and offering up carefully considered solutions that we think anyone can get behind,” Ms Simson said.
The 40 recommendations put forward by the NFF include plans to boost training opportunities, stamp out exploitation, speed up visa processing, and simplify the industrial relations system.
“There is no silver bullet to this crisis, we need to pull every lever available. After all, this isn’t just a farmer issue, it’s hurting out economy and ultimately, every Australian.
“We look forward to participating fully at next week’s Summit and in following policy processes to build consensus for immediate actions that will ease the pressure on farmers and consumers.:
However, Ms Simson warned the Summit needed short-, medium- and long-term approaches, with targets to match.
“The Government must identify measurable targets to hold this event to account and make sure it’s not just a talkfest.”
Read the full summary of industry challenges and recommendations here.