International backpackers willing to pick fruit or work as au pairs may soon be granted an exemption to Australia’s inbound travel ban.
The National Farmers’ Federation and the Backpacker and Youth Tourism Advisory Panel are set to lodge a proposal to the federal government that would allow 150 backpackers to enter the country as early as October.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison closed Australia’s borders in March to slow the spread of coronavirus, but with a looming shortfall of migrant workers there are now fears the country’s agriculture sector will face immense strain.
International backpackers willing to pick fruit or work as au pairs may soon be granted an exemption to Australia’s inbound travel ban
The National Farmers’ Federation and the Backpacker and Youth Tourism Advisory Panel are set to lodge a proposal to the federal government
The NNF Chief Executive Officer, Tony Mahar, said the organisation is looking to establish a ‘COVIDsafe pathway’ for working holiday makers from low infection countries.
‘The NFF has developed a COVID-19 Farm Workforce Guide,’ Mr Mahar said.
‘The resource outlines the considerations for farm business operators when welcoming new workers, addressing accommodation, self-isolation and financial support.
‘It also contains essential information about the tightened social and hygiene practices required on farms and in staff living quarters.
‘This includes how to respond should a worker either be suspected of having the virus or is in fact tested positive.’
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic Australia is expecting to see an 85 plunge in overseas migration this financial year.
Australia’s unemployment rate is predicted to reach a peak of about 10 per cent – a level not seen since 1994
Under the proposal 150 backpackers would be able to come to Australia by October
Over 80 percent of the nation’s lucrative horticulture industry is made up of migrant labour and the subsequent decline in overseas workers could see a shortfall of about 50,000 jobs.
At the same time, Australia’s unemployment rate is predicted to reach a peak of about 10 per cent – a level not seen since 1994.
To fill the void, three of the country’s most powerful unions – Australian Workers Union, Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) – say it’s time to scrap working holiday visas and replace the scheme with a new program encouraging young Australians into regional farm jobs.
In a submission to a federal review, the three union heavyweights known as the Retail Supply Chain Alliance, said the ‘lawless’ agricultural industry policy ‘rewards the exploitation’ of overseas workers and needs to be overhauled.
In 2015, an ABC Four Corners investigation shed light on the dark side of Australia’s local food industry in which thousands of young workers from overseas are kept in ‘slave-like conditions’, grossly underpaid and are even subjected to verbal and sexual abuse.
Some workers are kept in ‘slave-like’ conditions, and made to sleep in barns, tents, garages and shipping containers, a 2015 Four Corners investigation uncovered
‘Every year tens of thousands of young people arrive in Australia with dreams of travelling around our great country by making money picking fruit and veg,’ SDA National Secretary Gerard Dwyer said.
‘But they can end up on remote farms where they are packed into shoddy accommodation, are verbally and physically abused and often end up being chronically underpaid.
‘They’re often too scared to speak up because their visa depends on them completing the work for the very employer that is abusing them.
But the National Farmers’ Federation has rubbished the unions’ push, labelling it an ‘ill-conceived headline-grabbing stunt’.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud once said Australian workers have a ‘real aversion’ to go and pick fruit – an assessment shared by the Farmer’s Federation.
Over 80 percent of the nation’s lucrative horticulture industry is made up of migrant labour and the subsequent decline in overseas workers could see a shortfall of about 50,000 workers
‘Farmers would always prefer to employ Australians, but the facts this gang of unions choose to ignore are that farmers simply cannot source the local workers they need and therefore rely on international workers to help put food on the shelves for all Australians,’ FFA President Fiona Simson said.
‘COVID-19 travel restrictions mean, right now, farmers across the country are facing dire workforce shortages and in some cases entire crops are in jeopardy, because growers may not be able to get the workers they need to harvest.’
If the proposal is granted, it would not be the first such exemption for agriculture workers.
Earlier this month, the federal government approved a visa program for 170 Vanuatu fruit pickers to enter the Northern Territory and assist during the mango harvest.
In the beginning stages of the federal government-ordered shutdown in March, 3550 seasonal workers from Pacific Island nations also had their 401 visas extended to enable them to stay in Australia and continue to work.
The exemption proposal is yet to be submitted to government.
Three of the country’s most powerful unions say it’s time to scrap working holiday visas for international backpackers