Comment

Backpackers return to discover new employment landscape

By Stephen Barnard, Grwocom Ceo
January 27 2022 - 11:00pm
Backpackers return to discover new employment landscape

The last week brought with it a couple of important milestones in terms of an improved outlook for labour availability, for the entire economy, not just horticulture.

First, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced visa charges would be rebated for incoming international students and working holiday makers for those who arrive over the next few weeks.

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This was closely followed, not coincidentally, by confirmation the Queensland government would follow other jurisdictions in removing the requirement of international arrivals to quarantine by the end of the week, regardless of whether we hit the 90 per cent full vaccination target.

Both are important signals, which will hopefully motivate potential travellers to bring forward their plans for a visit Down Under.

But things have changed since the start of COVID-19, in many ways irrevocably, and the relationship between the Australian horticulture industry and backpackers won't ever be quite the same again.

Back in June 2021, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced working holiday makers in northern, remote and very remote areas would be able to count work outside of agriculture, in tourism and hospitality, toward their visa extensions.

Then in December the Australian government signed its Free Trade Agreement with the UK, removing a requirement for UK backpackers to complete any work in order to stay in the country longer.

Perhaps most significantly, backpackers will discover many more colleagues on farm from Pacific Island nations than had previously been the case.

Through necessity many growers have broken with their dependence on backpackers, and have discovered a much more productive, reliable, albeit more expensive, source of labour in the Pacific.

This growing interest in workers from the Pacific is happily matched by a large cohort of workers willing to take up the opportunity. The Prime Minister announced in August to a receptive Pacific Islands Forum we'd double our intake under these programs.

The last large piece of our labour supply puzzle yet to find its place is the new Australian Agriculture Visa. Still in design, whatever shape it finally takes the visa will only add more diversity, reliability and productivity to our mix of seasonal labour supply options.

None of this, however, is to suggest returning backpackers will struggle finding a job on farm when they get to Oz. Until robots replace us all, their place in our industry is assured. We look forward to welcoming them back!

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