Farmers groups and the Nationals in Australia have demanded more foreign workers to help growers tackle the harvest season.
The demand has prompted the Australian Government to loosen restrictions on two schemes that bring temporary farm workers into Australia, after months of pressure from the farming lobby and warnings fruit would rot on trees unless a labour solution was found.
Farmer’s Federation and the Nationals had been calling for a new agricultural visa, to which the federal government deliberated on then decided to dump the plans due to concerns that a new visa plan could open up a new way for illegal immigrants to enter the country.
The Australian government will instead loosen restrictions on two existing visas: the working backpacker visa and the Pacific islander scheme.
The Australian Prime Minister says “All of this is designed to support small, family, medium-sized businesses working in regional areas all around the country,”
The Visa reforms are directed to ensure “Workers don’t go home with any money in their pocket. Everything they earn here, they spend here. All the money goes back into regional towns creating more and more jobs.”
The total number of working backpackers allowed into Australia each year will rise, the Australian government confirmed. It will be “lifting annual caps” by an unspecified number for the 462 visa for working backpackers from a select group of countries.
The reforms will allow Backpackers to stay with the one employer for up to a year, rather than six months. The government will also make it easier for backpackers to renew their visas for a second year, and sometimes a third.
The sound of this does raise concerns especially with the small island states as Researchers at the Development Policy Centre thinktank warned the expansion of the backpacker scheme would reduce demand for the much smaller Pacific seasonal worker scheme meaning more long-term employment for backpackers, less Pacific seasonal workers.
Pacific island workers to stay longer, pay more for flights
The Reforms by the Australian government also change the Pacific worker scheme.
The existing program allows a limited list of employers to bring in workers from Timor Leste, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Before the reform, Pacific workers are currently allowed to stay for up to six months – or nine months for those from Nauru, Kiribati and Tuvalu.
Under the changes, the cap will rise to nine months for all countries and will see employer’s contribution for travel cost falling from $500 to $300 per worker.
Workers often earn more than $1000 per week and it is expected that they could afford to make slightly higher repayments as deductions from their wages.
Deep Creek Organics is an asparagus farm located around one hour outside Melbourne and Co-owners Donna and Frank Bombaci said their operation would not really benefit from the extension from six to nine months, given their 120-strong workforce of Vanuatu pickers and packers only come for a four-month harvest, however they are happy about the out of pocket reductions.
There are reasons why Deep Creek Organics hire outside of Australia as Australians were simply not interested in picking asparagus, describing the job as “one of the worst jobs you could have”.
Deep Creek Organics has been drawing on workers from Vanuatu for years now, and has repeat employees who come back year after year.