National Farmers' Federation

Skilled visa occupation lists fail farmers

The farm sector is frustrated at the failure of the Government’s revised occupation lists to address critical, ongoing labour shortages in the sector. 
While the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) welcomed the reinstatement of several occupations, in industries that support agriculture, to the lists, the peak body’s Chief Executive said the changes continued to fall short of meeting agriculture’s labour needs.
“The lists released on Friday, which underpin eligibility for the subclass 457 visa (soon to become Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa), still do not cater for agriculture’s unique labour requirements,” Chief Executive Tony Mahar said.
Following the announcement of the abolishment and reform of the subclass 457-visa program on 18 April 2017, a further review of the Short Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) and the Medium and Long Term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) was to be undertaken. 
Mr Mahar said the NFF was concerned about the April 2017 changes, including the removal of several occupations from the list altogether, and the restriction of agricultural occupations to the STSOL – limiting access to a two-year visa with no pathway to permanent residency.
“A two-year visa, even with an option for one onshore renewal, does not provide enough certainty for agricultural businesses,” Mr Mahar said.
“Friday’s announcement does not adequately address concerns raised by the NFF about the initial changes”
“It does not provide the confidence farm businesses need to invest in growth for continued productivity and profitability.”
Mr Mahar said agriculture was well placed to become a $100 billion industry by 2030, by capitalising on growing global demand for safe, high quality food and fibre.
“However, this cannot be achieved without the right policy settings to underpin growth and productivity and address industry labour needs,” Mr Mahar said.
“The agriculture sector supports an ‘Australian jobs first’ approach. However, despite a preference for Australian workers, businesses are expending significant resources to access overseas workers because they can’t find Australian workers to fill the positions that they are offering.
“The agriculture industry had long struggled to access skilled migration options, given that skills in agriculture are often practical and learned on the job – instead of flowing from formal qualifications.
The NFF holds a number of additional concerns about the policy settings for the new TSS visa.
“For example, the pork and dairy industries have invested significant resources into negotiating labour agreements that provide access to a skilled visa for key occupations in those industries.
“Under the Government’s visa reform, these industries risk losing previously agreed-to arrangements that were put in place to provide labour force certainty and skills sustainability.
“Currently, the future of these labour agreements remains uncertain.
“Furthermore, careful consideration needs to be given to the administration of contributions to the Skilling Australian’s Fund as this measure risks imposing significant cost increases on industry for little benefit.
“Going forward, it is critical  the Government gets the policy settings for the TSS visa right and listens to the requirements of the agriculture industry,” Mr Mahar said.

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