Horticulture Labour Crisis

Regional fruit picking regions are suffering from a labour crisis due to insufficient government support.

In recent times farms have been subjected to raids by Australia Border Force, with a number of Fijian workers being detained or allowed bridging visas to continue to work in the Sunraysia and surrounding districts.  Farmers are resorting to accessing illegal migrant skilled workers within the region to harvest their crops that would otherwise go to waste and cause financial strain.  If caught employing illegal workers, farmers face extensive fines for breaches or even jail.

In November it was announced by theMinister for Agriculture, Bridget McKenzie 
and the Member for Mallee, Dr Anne Webster that farmers will have access to labour this season through the Regional Agriculture Migration Package.  This Package is an extension of the Seasonal Worker Programme pilot and has been provided for an additional two years.

Dr Anne Webster has been advocating for her community to get better access to a migrant workforce.  

The cost of bringing in workers and employer requirements are high.  Under new government schemes, costs per worker are still out of reach for many farmers in the region with increased tax, visas, OH&S and compliance costs. 

While it is necessarily to put exploitation laws and the safety of workers in place, it has been found that most employers are responsible and are not exploiting workers as suggested in media reports.

In 2017 representatives from the National Farmers Federation andthe Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council provided input into the inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) asked the Committee to consider that ‘… most farmers are very small businesses, many family run, who are price takers. The farmers who do the right thing simply don’t have the resources to absorb the cost and administrative burden of additional regulation to address problems they don’t cause.’

Mr Dean Wickham, from the Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council in Mildura, commented that migrants should not be seen as low skilled workers ‘… the people who are out there picking our fruit to export-quality standard are skilled workers. They are not low skilled; they are skilled. In this particular economy, Robinvale and Mildura, these guys are the engine room of our community, and our big farmers appreciate it.’

While there has been action since the 2017 inquiry, it is too little support for those farmers who are in dire need of a skilled labour pool.

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation. This article has been prepared by Vanessa Baglieri, Marketing Manager.

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