A PLAN by the ALP to ease agricultural worker shortages has been met with mixed reactions.
Labor has announced it will reform the Pacific Australian Labour Mobility Scheme’s Seasonal Worker Program and expand the Pacific Labour Scheme.
It includes a commitment to meet upfront travel costs for Pacific workers under the Seasonal Worker Program – costs which currently have to be met by Australian farmers.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Julie Collins said this would increase the attractiveness of the Seasonal Worker Program for Australian farmers.
“We will make it easier for Pacific workers to fill labour shortages in Australia under the Pacific Labour Scheme by allowing participants to bring family members to live and work in Australia,” Ms Collins said.
“We will establish a dedicated agriculture visa stream under the PALM, creating a robust and sustainable four-year visa, with portability, strong oversight mechanisms, and protections and rights for workers.
These protections will be consistent with the protections under the PALM-PLS and PALM-SWP.”
AUSVEG, Australia’s peak industry body for the vegetable and potato sectors, said the plan didn’t not go far enough to address the horticulture industry’s critical farm worker shortages.
AUSVEG CEO Michael Coote said while Labor’s plan would reduce the burden of paying travel costs for workers under the Seasonal Workers Programme, the changes to the Ag Visa will restrict the number of partner countries and will result in fewer workers on Australian farms.
“The Ag Visa was designed to be a long-term structural change for the industry to access a more efficient and effective workforce and reduce its reliance on working holiday makers,” Mr Coote said.
“Growers need certainty around the availability of critical farm workers, and this plan from the Labor Party does not go far enough to providing that certainty. “The Ag Visa should not be restricted to a small number of nations, but all countries that want to provide an avenue for their citizens to come to Australia, work on our farms and earn a decent wage.
“We also would like to see a commitment from the Labor Party to increase investment in regional accommodation and services if it is expecting participants in the Pacific Labour Scheme to bring family to Australia.
There is already a shortage of accommodation in many regional areas, and we do not want to see workers and their families struggling with inadequate accommodation options.”
The Australian Workers’ Union welcomed the policy saying it contained a range of measures to secure the workforce Australian farms required, without rolling out the welcome mat to more abuse and exploitation.
AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said Labor’s approach would strengthen existing ties with Pacific nations.
“The policy also includes higher standards on inductions and stricter rules around approved employers,” Mr Walton said.
“Vitally, employees will also have the right to change employer so they will no longer be accused of ‘absconding’ if they leave an exploitative employer.”