Dairy workers in limbo

A LACK OF housing options and planning hurdles are compounding worker shortages in the Tasmanian dairy sector.

It is estimated between 700 and 800 more workers are needed on dairy farms across the state, the equivalent of about two per farm.

However, challenges in finding rural and regional properties are making it even harder to attract and retain staff.

Branxholm dairy farmer Andrew Aldridge said even if farmers were prepared to build additional housing stock on their properties, they faced costly hurdles.

To build a house or accommodation on your property a farmer needs an ag report which costs about $4000,” Mr Aldridge said.
“If I wanted to build short-term accommodation like an Airbnb, I wouldn’t need that ag report.
“I know we’ve got an interim planning scheme at the moment but clearly it is not fit for purpose.”

Mr Aldridge has an existing dwelling on his farm and is seeking to have it retrospectively approved so it can be used for staff accommodation.

He said he was challenged at every turn including finding access to a building surveyor and forking out the thousands of dollars for the necessary reports.

“Everyone knows there’s a shortage of housing, we can’t just utilise the regular rental market like we have done previously for our staff.
“We have to look at other options and even those are proving difficult.
“If you can’t offer housing to staff that’s nearby and accessible, particularly in the dairy sector, then you just won’t be able to get people.”

Opposition primary industry spokesperson Janie Finlay said farmers were being hamstrung by planning.

“Finding skilled labour is hard enough, but when you can’t even provide accommodation for your employee, it becomes an impossible task,” Ms Finlay said.
“Farmers want to retain their workers for the long-term but attracting workers to remote or rural areas is extremely hard if you expect your worker to drive hours to and from work and spend their hard-earned wage on either petrol or accommodation at a hostel or hotel.

“We know that when agricultural positions offer an accommodation incentive as well as a base salary, these jobs become more appealing.
“Our farmers are being hamstrung due to planning regulations and this needs to change. The agricultural sector is growing but if we do not address the issue of suitable accommodation for our farm workers, then we will have a workforce crisis in the future which will see this industry suffer.”

Local Government and Planning Minister Michael Ferguson said the state policy was in place to protect the integrity of prime agricultural land.
“If you want to build a new residence on prime agricultural land then you need to justify that it is required to support the agricultural use of that land,” Mr Ferguson said.
“Visitor accommodation has a slightly lower bar because it is non-permanent occupation.