WAFarmers was recently invited to attend a meeting in Canberra hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Employment to discuss the Labour Mobility Assistance Program (LMAP), supporting the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP).
The two-day convention, which was attended by WAFarmers Executive Officer – Policy (General) Grady Powell, aimed to provide guidance on the direction, activities and operations of the LMAP, offer feedback on the whole-of-government implementation process and provide stakeholders with the latest research gathered on the SWP.
The SWP allows workers from 10 participating countries – Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Timor-Leste – to undertake seasonal work with Australian employers in multiple industries, including the agricultural sector.
At present there are currently 69 approved employers in Australia, and over 4,000 seasonal workers are engaged to work in Australia during 2015-2016, with this number expected to increase. Some workers have benefitted so much from the program that they have undertaken multiple placements over the years, with some workers known to be on their eighth rotation.
These Pacific seasonal workers are generally employed for six-month periods, compared to backpackers who tend to work for only a few weeks or months at a time before moving on. Further, following the uncapping of the SWP last year, these Pacific workers are becoming increasingly important to the viability of the agribusiness supply chain, in addition to other sectors.
The current labour shortage in the agricultural sector is estimated to cost the industry approximately $700 million per annum, so programs such as the LMAP and SWP will work to stop the loss of productivity and recover these costs. Employing seasonal workers has been shown to demonstrate a 20 per cent productivity gain to each farming enterprise, so the importance of their presence on Australian farms cannot be overstated.
WAFarmers saw participation in this reference group as an invaluable opportunity to not only learn more about the operations of the LMAP and SWP, but also to promote the importance and availability of broad acre cropping placements for these seasonal workers as, at present, there is limited involvement in this sector, particularly in Western Australia.
Mr Powell said the suggestion to provide greater opportunities for broad acre placements for seasonal workers was well-received by the reference group, and that WAFarmers would continue to advocate for these placements to be incorporated into the LMAP’s strategy and direction so that the labour shortage can be curtailed.