4 April, 2020
Visa extensions for critical farm workers a sensible, practical solution for growers
AUSVEG, the industry representative for Australia’s vegetable and potato growers, has welcomed the announcement from the Federal Government that visas of vital foreign agriculture and food processing workers will be temporarily extended.
The announcement made by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Minister David Littleproud and Acting Minister Alan Tudge this morning will help ensure that growers have the workforce they need to supply fresh fruit and vegetables to Australian consumers.
The changes allow those within the Pacific Labour Scheme, Seasonal Worker Program and Working Holiday Maker program to continue to work in agriculture and food processing until the coronavirus crisis has passed.
AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside said that the announcement was a sensible and practical solution for fruit and vegetable growers who rely on a combination of local workers and foreign backpackers to work on farms to supply Australian with ample fruits and vegetables.
“The decision to temporarily extend the visas of seasonal workers and backpackers already working on farms in Australia will give growers confidence to plant their crops for the coming season, will help keep local businesses open in regional and rural areas that rely on agriculture to survive, and will ensure that locals, seasonal workers and backpackers alike are able to keep their jobs, work and live safely and keep the economy running,” said Mr Whiteside.
“This is an important outcome for the Australian horticulture industry and demonstrates the value in the sector coming together and collectively advocating on behalf of fruit and vegetable growers towards an outcome that benefits growers, workers and the Australian public.”
“Fruit and vegetables help Australians have a healthy, strong immune system and fresh produce is essential to a healthy, well-balanced diet – Australians need fresh produce and growers need workers to supply this produce to consumers.”
“Growers will always have a preference to employ a local workforce, but the reality is that our industry relies on international workers to supplement the workers they need that cannot be sourced from the local labour pool.”
“The extension of Seasonal Worker Program, Pacific Labour Scheme and Working Holiday Maker visas is a much-needed short-term solution to what will become a larger problem as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to limit the number of foreign workers who can come to Australia,” said Mr Whiteside.
Backpackers who work in agriculture or food processing will be exempt from the six month work limitation with the one employer and eligible for a further visa to keep working in critical sectors, including agriculture, if their current visa is due to expire in the next six months.
Workers in the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme will be able to extend their stay for 12 months to work for approved employers.
Employers will also need to commit to providing safe accommodation for agricultural workers that complies with social distancing requirements.
“Extending visas for seasonal workers and backpackers provides some certainty for growers, who have already experienced extreme hardship through drought and the summer bushfires,” said Mr Whiteside.
“We urge workers who are considering working on Australian farms to comply with the requirement to adhere to the health advice from the Federal Government and self-isolate for 14 days prior to working in regional areas, which will help protect themselves and ensure essential agricultural businesses can continue to supply food to Australians across the country.”
“Industry also welcomes local workers who are willing and able to work on farms and who may be interested in working in horticulture due to the current economic situation, but we urge them not to simply show up at farm gates and to use existing services such as Harvest Trail to help place workers on farms that need them.”
“This is an important result for the entire horticulture industry, and it shows that a collective effort on common issues can deliver good results for our sector. We would also like to thank Agriculture Minister David Littleproud for his personal tireless efforts to help deliver this complex policy,” said Mr Whiteside.
Those looking to find work on Australian farms can register their interest at Harvest Trail at jobsearch.gov.au/harvest.