Regulations, indecision mar bid for workers

Foreign workers still blocked from NSW, agriculture hurting


Bureaucrats are to blame for NSW agriculture being left waiting for foreign workers who are banned from the country, says Junee abattoir owner Heath Newton.


IT IS time the federal government overrode the states and allowed foreign workers to enter Australia to save our agriculture industy, says Junee abattoir owner Heath Newton.

For months he's been at his wit's end trying to import workers and today there is no sign of his stress easing.

Coronavirus restrictions mean foreign workers are not allowed into Australia and that has revealed a gaping hole in Australia's labour force.

For decades meatworks have been reliant on foreigners to fill key roles in their operations.

Mr Newton still greets each day with hope the state government will allow willing workers to fill vacant roles at his business.

He wants to expand output, has built infrastructure to enable that expansion and is left without enough people to fully utilise it.

That means a few resignations, particularly from foreign workers looking to go home for Christmas and possibly not returning, would create havoc at his business.

And it would transplate into food shortages in Australia this Christmas.

He says the federal government is on side to bring Pacific workers in for his operation, but the hold up is at state government level and he thinks state government should be jettisoned from the entire process.

"No-one in the (state) departments wants to take ownership of this.

"Everyone is sick of dealing with bureaucrats."

Mr Newton is prepared to pay for flights and the workers' isolation period, but can't get clearance.

If importing agricultural workers was equivalent to state of origin football, Queensland just won.

Labour force company FIP Group chief executive Brad Seagrott says a pilot program in Queensland will soon enable the arrival of four planeloads of workers from the South Pacific.

He hopes 80 of those will be destined for jobs in Qld meatworks.

While that doesn't meet current demand he considers it a step forwards, as the planes will be scheduled.

Demand for workers in Qld meatworks is now about 200, and in NSW about 400 across as many as eight sites. He has standing orders for 100 people in Western Australiua, 150 in South Australia and at least 100 in Victoria.

In Qld a solution seems at hand, in NSW things are going terribly, said Mr Seagrott.

"Everyone acknowledges there's a need, we just can't get a concrete answer."

He estimates for six to eight weeks he has spoken with NSW government representatives at least three times a week and federal officials at least once weekly for five to six weeks.

There is a team of four from the FIP Group tasked with resolving the situation and: "We've done everything asked of us for a month, I don't know what the hold up is."

"These are roles are typically filled by non-Australians," says Mr Seagrott, and that gap in the labour force had always existed.

Asked why Australians weren't taking the jobs, he said Australian young people had choices.

"There's plenty of good hard-working Australians and they have a choice about where they work," he said.

"How many young Australians go to school and think they'll have a job at the abattoir at the end of it?"

"Most people work at what they're passionate about, most people aren't passionate about meatworks."

Australians don't consider meatworks a long-term job proposition, Mr Seagrott said. and often didn't last three months at one site because they have options.

He said Pacific Islanders arrived on our shores with a different motivation, they were here to earn Australian dollars and channel the money back to their families and shore up their futures.

And that workers with Pacific Labour Scheme visas can stay three years means business owners are investing in their training, he said, which was three months for some higher-skilled roles.

With greater skills comes more money.

Despite an apparent lack of interest from Australians, Mr Seagrott encouraged people to seek employment in the meat industry, which "offers long-lasting career opportunities and potential for rapid advancement".

"Knocking on the door is the first step," he said.

At Junee Mr Newton compared foreign workers' motivations to Australian who chose to cash in at Western Australian mines during the mining boom.

He says he can't force Australians to work and the current lack of foreign workers has highlighted how reliant the nation has become on foreigners taking work Australians simply won't do.

"Foreign workers are coming from countries that don't have welfare and while our government is paying people without a job, they're not going to come looking for one," he said.

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