By Growcom Manager, Policy and Advocacy Richard Shannon
The Jobs and Skills Summit held in Canberra last week has been given an overall pass mark by agricultural attendees and observers.
While we heard again bleeding obvious acknowledgements from all sides that there was in fact a very serious shortfall in seasonal labour, no great ground was broken in finding an immediate solution growers are seeking.
And perhaps our expectations of some break through result were misplaced, for the wheels of government turn slowly, particularly where they are first seeking agreement from both unions and industry.
From the Summit a tripartite agreement was signed between peak industry bodies, key unions and the Albanese Government to implement a range of agreed improvements to skills and training, workplace safety, housing, and the PALM Scheme.
All these things are welcome.
And credit to Minister Watt for getting this band back together again, which will also feed into the development of an economy-wide Employment White Paper over the next 12 months.
But his and our real work will begin in finding a fix for our seasonal worker shortfall that’s agreeable to all.
Because after we’ve recruited every last Australian who wants a job in horticulture, and trained every last worker who wants not just a job but a career, and after we’ve placed every ready worker from the Pacific and given them a path to permanent residency, by our estimation we’re still going to need a cohort of workers willing and able to follow the harvest trail.
There are seven production regions across Australia with a casual labour demand over 10,000 workers, each peaking in demand at different times of the year. None of these regions are near a capital city. We need a mobile cohort, filling multiple jobs around the country.
Though some have forgotten, the answer the Albanese Government has inherited to this incredibly important question remains the Working Holiday Maker program, as it is also now the answer for the hospitality and tourism sectors of Northern Australia.
While industry will welcome backpackers if and when they return in numbers, we can still design something better. A visa program that improves productivity while safeguarding worker pay and conditions.