National Farmers' Federation

Significant labour shortages across food supply chain weighing on growth, cost of living

Australia’s top peak food industry bodies, which calculated the food supply chain was short at least 172,000 workers, from paddock to plate, before the Jobs & Skills Summit last September say limited progress is now weighing on both GDP growth, and the cost of household’s weekly shop.

Figures released yesterday confirm Australia’s GDP growth has slowed to a crawl. Meanwhile the food supply chain which represents more than 10% of GDP is operating at reduced capacity due to workforce constraints.

Farmers, food suppliers, distributors, independent supermarkets, grocers, butchers, food processors and hospitality are all sending a united message: if you want a stronger economy, just add workers.

With almost 80% of Australians concerned about the price of food, labour shortages are, from a ‘cost of business’ perspective, one of the contributing factors to food price increases to the consumer as well as the ability to process and move food along the supply chain.

The ‘National Food Supply Chain Alliance’ represents over 160,000 businesses with a revenue of over $200 billion. It includes the National Farmers’ Federation, the Australian Meat Industry Council, Seafood Industry Australia, Independent Food Distributors Australia, AUSVEG, Master Grocers Australia, Restaurant and Catering Industry Association and the Australian Association of Convenience Stores and the Refrigerated Transport and Warehouse Association.

According to the peak bodies, the food supply chain urgently requires a suite of solutions, including reducing barriers to work and providing suitable visa pathways to welcome overseas workers.

This should include a greater focus on ASEAN countries for schemes which service the sector. The Alliance believes that food price inflation – which is as high as 15% in some categories in the most recent data – is one of the few ‘cost of living’ pressures the Government can influence.

This can be done by working constructively with industry to stabilise the myriad of ever- increasing input costs. Labour shortages, energy prices, increasing wages, fuel and supply chain disruptions are all issues negatively impacting the supply chain.

This impacts business and ultimately, the prices paid at the checkout. The Alliance believes the Government must, as a matter of urgency, develop a National Food Supply Chain Resilience Strategy to reduce the impact of the multiple long-term disruptors from natural disasters to future global challenges.