Half of casual ag workers from overseas: report

50pc of casual ag workers from overseas as harvest time nears: report

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Sheds more light on the extent of the labour shortage the industry faces, due to the mass exodus of overseas workers due to COVID-19.

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Up to half of all casual and contract farm workers are from overseas, according to a new report.

The report by Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) sheds more light on the extent of the labour shortage the industry faces, due to the mass exodus of overseas workers due to COVID-19.

In the 2018/19 financial year, 40 to 50 per cent of casual ag workers were from overseas, including working holidaymakers and those on seasons working visas.

The total number of overseas workers ranged from 69,000 in February 2019 to 47,000 in June 2019, with the highest concentration found in regions with high volumes of horticultural production and a range of seasonal crop types.

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"This includes regions such as south-east Queensland, including the important vegetable producing regions of the Lockyer Valley and Wide Bay, as well as tropical fruit and strawberry production on the Sunshine Coast," the report states.

"The Sunraysia and Shepparton regions in northern Victoria are another with a range of vegetable crops, wine grapes, almonds, citrus and pome fruit and includes large areas of table grapes - a crop that requires large numbers of pickers and packers for relatively short periods."

Nationally, the total number of casual workers employed on farms, including overseas farmers, ranged from a high of 150,000 to a low of 100,000, with the number increasing by one-third from September to February.

"Total casual and contract labour use appears to vary less throughout the year in NSW and Queensland than in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania," the report states.

A parliamentary inquiry investigating the pandemic-induced labour shortage has handed the government a series of recommendations to solve the issue.

The included a "Have a Gap Year at Home" campaign targeting school leavers and university graduates, who could get a HECS discount for undertaking the work.

The committee also suggested allowing people to keep JobSeeker payments if they take up jobs picking fruit or vegetables.

There were also several major temporary changes recommended for the working holiday maker visa, designed to restart the program and broaden the number of people eligible.

The ABARES report, which covered about 93 per cent of farms, found they employed an average of 322,000 people across 2018/19.

Broadacre farms were the largest employers in Australian agriculture, accounting for an average of 159,000 workers

Fruit grape and nut farms employed around 103,000 workers, vegetable farms employed 36,000 workers and dairy farms employed an average of 24,000 workers over the year.

The story Half of casual ag workers from overseas: report first appeared on Farm Online.

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