Horticulture

Labour a challenge

By Country News

A national survey has revealed the extent of the challenges agriculture faces when it comes to attracting the people power needed to drive productivity.

The 2018 Farm Workforce Survey, carried out by the NFF, found the gravity of the sector’s workforce shortage.

‘‘Most farmers surveyed reported a significant shortfall of skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers during both peak and non-peak seasons, and substantial financial and productivity losses as a result of these shortfalls,’’ NFF workplace relations and legal affairs manager Ben Rogers said.

‘‘The results also showed that the workforce needs of farmers can surge by as much as 500 per cent during peak periods.’’

Almost 90 per cent of the respondents’ said their workforce was made up of permanent Australian residents, while a little over 10 per cent of farm labour was reported to be provided by migrant workers, such as backpackers and participants of the seasonal worker programs.

Mr Rogers said two thirds of farmers ranked labour concerns as among the top-three challenges they expected to face in coming years.

‘‘Most farmers reported the shortfall in labour supply, employment costs and red tape were their most significant labour concerns,’’ he said.

‘‘Perhaps in reflection of the difficulty in attracting suitable workers, almost 70 per cent of respondents reported paying above-award wages.’’

Mr Rogers said farm workforce problems were most often associated with horticulture, but the survey demonstrated labour challenges were industry-wide.

‘‘Dairy farmers; pig, beef and sheep producers; and grain growers all confirmed that a shortfall in labour was one of the primary concerns for the year ahead,’’ he said.

Agriculture is a powerhouse of the Australian economy — contributing on average $60billion to the nation’s bottom line each year.

Agriculture is also a significant national employer.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicates the sector created 217000 full-time and 88000 part-time jobs last year.

Workers in the agricultural industry have been an ongoing issue recently with fruit growers in particular expressing their concerns in regards to the Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017, which is set to be voted on in the Upper House in May at the earliest.