As essential spring and summer harvests edge closer, the farming community continues to implore state and territory governments to coordinate their response to the farm labour shortage predicted over coming months.
Our grains, horticulture and even wool industries face the worrying prospect of worker shortfalls, meaning vital produce won't be reaching supermarkets and export hubs in normal volumes.
International border closures have meant working holiday markers (WHMs), who make up 80 percent of seasonal harvest workers in horticulture, have had their access to Australia blocked.
The number of WHMs has decreased rapidly over 2020 as international borders shut in a bid to contain COVID-19, with a 39 percent reduction reported in Australia between February and June this year.
NSW Farmers has advocated tirelessly for a response to labour problems, which are set to impact not only individual farm businesses, but consumers as well.
While it has been pleasing to see the majority of States and Territories agree to a National Agricultural Workers Code, more needs to be done to harness an adequate workforce for the labour-intensive harvests on our doorstep.
For short-term labour needs, we encourage a coordinated approach to enable free movement of seasonal workers across state borders.
The sector needs clear, consistent and well communicated protocols to enable those holding a work visa to return to Australia.
We also urge the NSW Government to support farmers using the Seasonal Workers Program to access workers.
Incentives to attract suitably skilled domestic job seekers, displaced workers, school leavers, university students and retirees to participate in agriculture seasonal work must also be explored.
Clear and centralised information on work opportunities needs to be made available, and grants for local Councils to coordinate accommodation options for domestic workers should be explored.
Workforce challenges have affected the agriculture industry for some time, but COVID-19 has quickly escalated and brought urgency to the issue.
NSW Farmers will continue to advocate for ways to build a reliable and sustainable workforce for the agriculture industry, making it more resilient to change.
- James Jackson, NSW Farmers President
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