Julian Leeser MP, Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, welcomes the Government’s recent announcements addressing agricultural labour shortages in line with the recommendations of the Interim Report of the Inquiry into the Working Holiday Maker Program.
Mr Leeser commented that the announcements incentivise Australians to take up agricultural and horticultural work in regional areas. They also give visa holders who haven’t been able to enter the country due to COVID more certainty about their ability to use their visa or apply for a new visa when borders reopen.
Incentivising young Australians to take a ‘domestic gap year’
The Committee recommended that the Government put in place measures to attract young people and people on support payments to take up regional work in the form of a ‘gap year at home’. The Government announced that it is investing $33.7 million is being invested to support farmers by encouraging and incentivising Australians to take a ‘domestic gap year’ to work in the agriculture sector this coming harvest season.
The 2020 Budget provides, $17.4 million in relocation support and $16.3 million in temporary Youth Allowance and ABSTUDY eligibility changes to incentivise people to take up seasonal farm work this summer.
Providing relocation assistance
The Committee recommended the Government establish a one-off payment to help with travel and accommodation costs incurred when picking fruit in regional areas, to be paid after a certain period of time working in regional, rural and remote areas.
The Government last week announced that relocation allowances of up to $6,000 for Australians and up to $2,000 for eligible visa holders will be available from 1 November to undertake seasonal work in agriculture.
From 1 November 2020, relocation assistance will be available to people who relocate to harvest and regional areas to take up at least 6 weeks of agricultural work, including Australians who are not receiving income support and those with the right to work in Australia.
Allowing essential agricultural worker movement between states
We also recommended that the Government recognise the importance of enabling agricultural workers to move across state borders and facilitate appropriate exemptions and permits subject to approval by health authorities.
The National Agriculture Workers’ Code has been delivered to provide for the COVID-safe travel between states – five of eight Australian jurisdictions have implemented it except for Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania.
Application fee waivers
The Committee also recommended concessions for WHM visa holders who haven’t been able to make full use of their visa. The Government announced that backpackers on Working Holiday Maker visas who have been unable to come to Australia or who had to leave Australia early due to COVID-19 will be eligible for a Visa Application Charge waiver, when they decide to return to Australia.
Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme
The Committee recommended that further work be done to work with state and territory governments to recruit additional SWP and PLS workers to fill the agricultural labour shortfalls.
The Morrison Government has since announced a further $9 million to ensure employers can access Seasonal Worker Programme workers to meet these shortfalls.
The SWP and PLS have a dual purpose – it provides direct and tangible benefits to our farming sector and also to our Pacific family by providing income, skills and valuable remittances to support the economic development of participating countries.
Filling these positions will not come at the expense of getting Australians into jobs as approved employers can only recruit through the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) if they can demonstrate they cannot find suitable Australian workers.
Mr Leeser says he is delighted that the measures recommended by the Committee have been adopted by the Government in response to the report to fill critical workforce shortages in agriculture and horticulture. These announcements enable Working Holiday Makers, a major contributor to Australia’s tourism industry and agricultural labour force, to support Australia’s critical sectors at this time.