Changes to the Working Holiday Maker visa program will make employing seasonal staff easier for Australian employers but are not the complete solution the industry has been seeking, according to industry lobby groups.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the changes earlier this month but cautioned that engaging Australian workers was still a primary focus for the Government.
‘We need to ensure that we get as many Australians into these jobs as we possibly can’, he said during a visit to a strawberry farm in southern Queensland.
‘But we also have to make sure that we actually get the job done’.
New Working Holiday Maker Visa Rules
Five changes have been made to the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa, with the aim of helping agricultural employers to better attract and retain labour for seasonal workloads.
- Effective immediately, visa holders in more regional areas will qualify for an additional year in Australia, a clause which has previously only applied to workers in the Northern Territory.
- Visa holders will also be able to work for a single employer for a period of up to 12 months (up from 6 months), a particularly crucial change for employers looking to retain good workers.
- Workers will also be able to apply for an optional third-year in Australia, if they have undertaken specified work within a specified regional area for a minimum of six-months.
- The government will also increase the number of visa holder accepted and increase the eligible age of applicants from Canada and Ireland to 35.
While the industry welcomed the new relaxed rules, many within the industry have critised the initiative for not going far enough to properly address labour shortages.
Chief advocate for the horticulture lobby group Growcom, Rachel McKenzie, warned that the changes would not result in a significant increase to the labour pool.
“I think they’re a fantastic first option on the table and they demonstrate that the Government is taking our concerns about our labour force seriously,” she said.
“It will enable those backpackers who want to work in agriculture to have the capacity to work in agriculture and also stay longer.”
Vegetable grower Anthony Staatz agreed that the relaxed rules were a step in the right direction, but critical labour issues still need to be addressed.
“Every time we get a new backpacker into our business, there’s a cost involved in training and getting them up to speed, so the longer that they’re able to stay, the better it is for our business,” he said.
Mr Staatz would also like the opportunity to provide longer term opportunities to workers who display leadership potential.
“Those skills don’t just fall out of trees. We go through hundreds of people to find one or two that see value in that type of leadership role and have the capability to do it. If we were able to select those people for more permanent positions, that would be a bit help for us,” he said.