The National Farmers’ Federation is urging producers to sign up to a labour survey as it ramps up pressure on the federal government for a new class of visa for unskilled farm labour.
The Horticulture industry lists chronic labour shortages as its biggest issue, arguing existing worker migration schemes leave small farmers in particular short-staffed
The NFF is highlighting farm case studies to show existing problems and promoting the government’s National Harvest Labour Information Service survey, to provide the data the Prime Minister said was needed to justify new immigration policy.
Earlier this month Mr Morrison told the NFF National Congress that he backed the ag visa but he needed more information.
“We support moving toward an ag visa - there's never been any question about that. But we have to go about it in the right way, It’s not a silver bullet to solve any problems in the forthcoming harvest,” he said.
Mr Morrison, a former Immigration Minister, said any new visa category must be robust to prevent misuse by immigrants and the rorts which he had seen occur among a few bad apples in the ag sector.
“Illegal workers, cash work, illegal work - I won’t put up with it and I know you won't put up with it,” Mr Morrison told the congress.
NFF president Fiona Simson welcomed Mr Morrison’s commitment to the visa, and encouraged farmers to complete the survey.
“The Government requires additional information about the extent of agriculture's labour shortage crisis and exactly what jobs are going unfilled.
“The one-page form asks farmers how many workers they require and for what tasks. It should take no more than 10 minutes to complete.”
A statement from NFF included the story of Hobart strawberry grower David Jennings. Last summer Mr Jenning was forced to leave 350 tonnes to rot because he couldn’t get the workers to pick them.
Perth berry farmer, Anthony Yewers, had no choice but to forsake 30 per cent of his mixed berry crop.
Days before NFF’s congress, Mr Morrison floated the idea of linking farm labour vacancies with welfare payments, so recipients who turned down a job offer without a reasonable excuse would lose their payments for up to four weeks.
Industry slammed the PM’s plan, arguing that unfilled fruit and vegetable work was unattractive and unsuited to permanent Australian residents, as it is typically short term, seasonally sporadic and requires significant travel as harvest rolled across the country.
Development of an ag visa has been slowed by concerns about the impact on the Seasonal Worker Program, targeted at Pacific Islanders.
UNder this scheme workers from these countries must be provided a minimum average of 30 hours per week for up to six months.
But only larger horticultural companies, with long-term harvest demands, tend benefit from the Pacific Island worker schemes.
Smaller farmers, with smaller picking requirements, cannot guarantee work for extended periods.