More than 10,000 south-east Asians will be lured to Australia to pick fruit and vegetables under a new visa to help tackle a crippling labor shortage.
The agriculture visa, which is due to be in place before the end of the year, was announced on Tuesday night after Scott Morrison and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed a historic UK-Australia free trade deal.
The deal exempts British backpackers from having to work for three months on a farm to qualify for a second year in Australia, meaning farmers will lose about 10,000 workers a year.
More than 10,000 south-east Asians from 10 nations (pictured) will be lured to Australia to pick fruit and vegetables
The new visa, available to the UK and 10 nations from the ASEAN group – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – is designed to more than make up the shortfall.
The visa will allow people to work on Australian farms for three years, although they must return home for three months each year so their nations also benefit as they spend money in the local economy.
It comes as Covid border closures have left farmers desperate for workers with only 40,000 backpackers left in the country, down from 160,000 in normal times.
A scheme to pay Australians $6,000 to relocate to the bush failed as Aussies turned their noses up at the long hours and gruelling work.
‘Unfortunately Australians can’t be incentivised to go and have a crack at these jobs. We’ve got to be honest about that,’ Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told ABC radio on Wednesday.
Covid border closures have left farmers desperate for workers with only 40,000 backpackers left in the country, down from 160,000 in normal times
Mr Littleproud said the foreign workers could be let into the country via state-run quarantine camps or alternatively do two weeks of quarantine in their home nations before flying, if states agreed.
Unions have raised fears that poor workers with little English could be exploited by farmers after a union survey of 1300 seasonal workers found 78 per cent were underpaid with some earning as little as $9 a day.
But Mr Littleproud insists bad apples among employers are a minority with conditions almost always up to award standards.
‘Anyone that doesn’t [pay properly], needs to be found out and weeded out – they’re a cancer,’ he said.
‘It’s dangerous where you’ve got unions running around and demonising farmers broadly when that’s not the case.’
Australian Workers Union secretary Daniel Walton described the move as shameless, stupid and immoral.
‘Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson have decided it’s wrong for Brits to be exposed to exploitation and abuse on Australian farms, but apparently it’s OK for Southeast Asians,’ he said.
He said the minister’s claims Australians were not motivated to do the jobs were ‘absolute garbage’.
‘They can be incentivised to do those jobs with decent pay and conditions that protect them from abuse,’ Mr Walton said.
British people under the age of 35 will be able to work in Australia for three years without having to complete farm work
‘If the government goes ahead with this abhorrent proposal exploitation and abuse on Australian farms will explode.’
Mr Morrison backed an agriculture visa in 2018 but later said the expansion of existing migration programs meant there was no longer a need for a dedicated category.
‘That is something I’ve had a positive view on for some time,’ Mr Morrison told reporters in London.
Victorian Farmers Federation vice-president Emma Germano, who has long pushed for the visa, said it was needed for horticulture, as well as other skilled and unskilled jobs in other sectors.
‘From milkers, livestock farm hands, pickers, packers, machinery drivers; everyone is having trouble finding labour,’ she said.
‘Right now we need smart policy solutions for a wicked human capital problem and I hope this decision opens the door to a resolution.’
What’s in the historic free trade deal between Australia and the UK?
– Brits can get three-year Working Holiday Visas up until age of 35
– Rule mandating farm work will be scrapped
– Aussies can also work in the UK for three years
– Deal could boost Australian economy by $1.3billion each year
– Gives businesses more opportunities to sell abroad after China imposed tariffs
– UK agreed to eventually eliminate agriculture tariffs in win for Aussie farmers
– This will allow Aussie beef, lamb, cheese and sugar to enter the UK tariff-free
– But there are fears the changes will see a loss of 10,000 farm workers in Australia annually
– Australia will also scrap tariffs on British goods including whiskey
– Tariffs on British cars, machinery, tractors and pharmaceuticals will also be scrapped