Labour shortages facing the dairy industry have led the peak lobby group Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) to push for involvement in the Government’s Seasonal Worker Program.
The industry, which currently employs 140,000 people nationwide, has been hampered by new regulations on 457 visas along with a lack of access to seasonal workers.
The main issue ADF has faced in its efforts to gain access to the scheme has been whether or not dairy can be classified as a seasonal industry.
In an interview with ABC Rural this month, ADF President Noel Campbell said, “we are currently not deemed as a seasonal-type industry, but it certainly is in Victoria and Tasmania, where there’s more seasonal calving”.
What constitutes seasonality may be the defining factor in determining whether dairy is afforded access to the scheme.
Another consideration on the Government’s behalf should be whether adding new industries to the scheme is appropriate at a time when the four existing trial sectors (accommodation, aquaculture, cotton and sugar cane) are currently experiencing underwhelming participation numbers.
As of yet, there have been no firm commitments from the Government on whether dairy will be allowed to enter the Seasonal Worker Program, and a decision will now not be possible until after the elections.
‘Labour shortages’ are the common excuse cited by various industry groups. Yet you very rarely see any, let alone good, empirical evidence to support these claims.
While I don’t agree the recent 457 visa changes were a positive thing, the Australian Dairy Farmers – like many other lobby groups – are making a mountain out of a molehill. Some additional regulations have been added but there wasn’t any major changes to eligibility in accessing potential migrant employees. Dairy Cattle Farmer and MIxed Livestock Farmer both remain eligible under the program[pdf].
Personally, I see constant change as the best way to hamper future growth in the SWP. Instead of continuously expanding eligibility through industries and pilots, we need a proper explanation to find out what exactly is limiting the program in the current form. At the moment, any future ‘fixes’ will be at best educated guesses. For instance, who knows if the recent addition of the whole of Western Australia for the accommodation trial will see a substantial increase in numbers.