Give ag visa a test run, says AFPA

Australian Fresh Produce Alliance calls for ag visa compliance focus and a trial

Horticulture
SAFE: Industry groups are pushing for a trial of the new seasonal agriculture worker visa to ensure it has robust protections within it to safeguard workers. Photo: Shutterstock.

SAFE: Industry groups are pushing for a trial of the new seasonal agriculture worker visa to ensure it has robust protections within it to safeguard workers. Photo: Shutterstock.

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The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance would like to see an ag visa trial.

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AN industry group is calling for a trial of the new seasonal agriculture worker visa by the end of the year.

The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) has requested the trial with a focus on ensuring compliance with employment standards to ensure worker welfare.

The organisation has also released its own proposal on the visa.

Last month, federal agriculture minister David Littleproud announced the new visa meaning UK backpackers will no longer be required to fulfil a period of time working in the agriculture sector.

The visa will be extended to all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

An outline for a seasonal agriculture worker visa proposed by the AFPA has recommended robust requirements including compliance with existing ethical sourcing programs, labour market testing and providing prospective visa holders with copies of employment contracts outlining relevant terms and conditions.

AFPA chief executive officer Michael Rogers said there was very little detail on the seasonal agriculture worker visa so far.

SAFEGUARDS: AFPA chief executive officer Michael Rogers says the new ag visa arrangement must have protections to ensure workers are protected, not subject to exploitation and that the visa is not misused.

SAFEGUARDS: AFPA chief executive officer Michael Rogers says the new ag visa arrangement must have protections to ensure workers are protected, not subject to exploitation and that the visa is not misused.

"But our proposal has focussed on ensuring there are robust employer sponsorship requirements to ensure that only compliant employers are able to access the visa program," Mr Rogers said.

Standards proposed by the AFPA are similar to those required for Approved Employers under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme currently accessed by a number of employers in horticulture.

When announcing the new visa, Mr Littleproud made a point of emphasising the ethical element to it.

"Like the Seasonal Worker Programme, the new visa arrangement will have protections to ensure workers are protected, not subject to exploitation and that the visa is not misused," Mr Littleproud said.

"Pay and conditions, health, and work and safety will also be in line with similar requirements and protections under the Seasonal Worker Programme."

The AFPA's Mr Rogers said his organisation would like to see the development of a network of best practice, registered employers that comply with high standards.

"In this type of setting, visa holders would be able to move between a known network of compliant employers," Mr Rogers said.

DETAILS: Growcom chief executive Stephen Barnard says the exact design and implementation of the new visa is key.

DETAILS: Growcom chief executive Stephen Barnard says the exact design and implementation of the new visa is key.

"This complements the existing Pacific Labour Mobility programs without compromising on standards."

Growcom chief executive Stephen Barnard welcomed the ag visa but said the exact design and implementation of the new visa was key.

"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," he said.

"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.

VegetablesWA president Damir Kuzmicich said he'd also like more information on the visa, particularly the safety and wellbeing aspects.

"The government has indicated it wants to deliver the new agriculture visa within three months, which is quite ambitious," Mr Kuzmicich said.

"In this COVID environment we're seeing acute labour shortfalls across industry, so any measures put in place to build the workforce is welcomed.

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"At this stage there are a lot of details still being worked through and it's unclear how the visa will be managed and regulated.

"If done correctly this is a great opportunity for our industry, we just want to ensure mistakes of the past aren't repeated and that everyone is protected - both growers and workers alike."

Ausveg national manager - public affairs Tyson Cattle said timely action was needed to get the visa class up and running so workers can be brought in as soon as possible when borders open up and international workers are able to enter the country.

"While we await more details around the visa arrangements for this visa class, we understand the new visa will build on the successful Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme visas that have proved invaluable to the agriculture sector over the past 12 months," Mr Cattle said.

The objective of the Seasonal Agriculture Worker visa from industry's perspective is to reduce reliance on backpackers and engage with a cohort of workers that want to perform agricultural work in Australia. - Michael Rogers, CEO, Australian Fresh Produce Alliance

"This announcement is a positive development in our industry's calls for a dedicated labour source to harvest and package fruits and vegetables.

The AFPA's seasonal agriculture worker visa proposal also includes robust criteria for prospective visa holders including proficiency in English language and a completed a certificate in native language that demonstrates an understanding of the Australian agriculture industry, employment standards and complaints procedures.

"The objective of the Seasonal Agriculture Worker visa from industry's perspective is to reduce reliance on backpackers and engage with a cohort of workers that want to perform agricultural work in Australia," Mr Rogers said.

"As part of that, it is important that prospective visa holders have access to information and are educated and certified in various topics relevant to their work in Australia.

"The Australian fresh produce industry is in the midst of a workforce restructure and adoption of new workforce planning and management.

"Strong and enforceable employment standards across both the Pacific programs and the Seasonal Agriculture Worker visa will support ongoing growth in the industry and help to further develop a productive and returning workforce."

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