After years of advocacy Growcom has welcomed the recent announcement by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud of a new visa designed to address the seasonal labour needs of the horticulture sector.
COVID-19 has only made the case for a dedicated seasonal labour visa stronger and the current shortage of workers has created an opportunity to reform the industry's workforce to deliver overdue productivity gains.
We have known for a long time that our increasing reliance on backpackers for seasonal labour had come with a cost to productivity. As an industry we deserve a more reliable, motivated and productive workforce.
From the details at hand, we believe the new agriculture visa proposed by Mr Littleproud is an important step in the right direction. The exact design and implementation of the new visa is now key.
We need to ensure any future loss of backpackers from Britain as a result of the Free Trade deal is offset by those holding a new agriculture visa.
We want to ensure the integrity of the new visa is upheld, with only those employers who can demonstrate high standards of employment practice able to access these workers.
This could involve requiring employers to gain certification through ethical sourcing programs including Fair Farms, delivered by Growcom and recently in receipt of a funding boost from the Morrison government to fast track grower uptake.
And we are also keen to see the new visa complement existing successful programs attracting seasonal workers from Pacific Island nations, which also have room to expand.
Despite the proposed removal of the regional work requirement for British backpackers to extend their stay in Australia, we hope many will continue to choose to spend time on our farms. Many great and long lasting bonds are formed between backpackers and with their Australian employers during the harvest.