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Jobs and Skills Summit – All Hat and No Cattle?

The Labor Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit has ended with no meaningful solution for the agricultural industry.

36 immediate initiatives were agreed to, covering additional funding to TAFE and a one-off income credit to bring Aged Pensioners back to work this year.

None of the immediate initiatives employed are directed at the agriculture industry.

“As farmers, we’ve been at the frontline of Australia’s workforce challenges for years, and for years we’ve waited for solutions,” NFF President, Fiona Simson noted.

“The Summit helped move that conversation forward and achieved some consensus and momentum. But I can tell you as farmers we’re a bit sick of talking. It’s critically important that we start to turn all that talk into tangible action.”

Some outcomes from the summit will help agriculture, such as increasing skilled migration and simplifying enterprise bargaining. However, it remains unclear as to how the industry will fill the immediate skills gap, requiring at least 172,000 workers across our food supply chain.

“While much of the discussion at the Jobs Summit centred on migration for highly skilled workers – which is undoubtedly a challenge for agriculture – we are still left wondering how we will plug the yawning gap in lower-skilled workers,” said Ms Simson.

“We know the PALM isn’t the answer in isolation. We know domestic workers aren’t here in the numbers we need. We need appropriate visa pathways to bring in workers from around the world, and to ensure they’re having a positive experience in regional Australia.”

The lack of immediate solutions for the agricultural industry is reflected in the whitepaper released post-summit. Under ‘areas for further work’ the document notes that: “Government, industry and unions will pursue solutions to better skill, attract, protect and retain workers in the agriculture sector through a tripartite agriculture workforce working group”.

Workplace Enterprise Bargaining

Pledged legislative reforms to enterprise bargaining including multi-employer bargaining, modification of the “Better off Overall Test” (the BOOT) and access to flexible work arrangements. Changes will come quickly, with a commitment to immediately commence the necessary policy reviews and have legislation before the Parliament prior to Christmas.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has announced the Government is committed to implementing this change, with multi-employer bargaining allowing two or more employers to bargain together.

The Government will also look for changes to soften the BOOT and enable the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to interpret the BOOT in a more flexible manner when approving enterprise agreements.

Increased Migration

The Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil announced at the summit that the annual permanent immigration intake will increase from 160,000 to 195,000.

Additionally, regional migration places are set to increase from 9,000 to 34,000, and state and territory sponsored visas will be increasing from 11,000 to 31,000.

There will also be changes to student visas, extending the ability of current international students to work pre, post, and during their studies. The current relaxation of working hours for student visa holders will remain until June 2023, no longer limiting them to 40 hours a fortnight.

Post-study work rights will also increase for selected degrees from:

  • Two years to four years for select Bachelor’s degrees
  • Three years to five years for select Masters degrees
  • Four years to six years for select PhD’s

It was also announced that $63.1 million would be invested into visa processing, increasing staff capacity, and speeding up processing times.

Sources: Prime Minister of Australia, National Farmers Federation, Clayton Utz, Ethos Migration, Jobs and Skills Summit Outcomes, National Farmers Federation

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