Skilled migrant labour vital for dairy

Jul 03, 2018

We need to address the skilled labour shortage on Australian dairy farms. It’s an issue that has been around for years and can be resolved by the federal Government making minor changes to its skilled migration program.

Technology, automation, intensification, self-regulation and globalisation are making our farms more complex and skills based. In the context of an ageing workforce and difficulties attracting and retaining young people to farming, the dairy industry has become more reliant on skilled foreign workers to operate its farms.

Dairy is Australia’s third largest agricultural industry, with $4.3 billion gross value of milk production and employment of 26,000 people on farm. Despite a couple of difficult years of below average milk prices the industry has added over 3,000 new jobs on farm over the past five years.

Unfortunately, a number of these jobs are being filled by Australians who are ill-equipped to handle the roles. They find it difficult to satisfy food safety standards, administer veterinary and other animal husbandry requirements, operate technology or are generally unable to fulfil the obligations of a skilled dairy farm manager or leading hand.

A consequence of not meeting these performance expectations is turnover. In the last study of pastoral industries employeeturnover was reported to costthe dairy industry between$336and$364millionayear or an average of $22,500peremployeeperfarm. Given that most dairy farms operate as professional businesses paying above award rates, these figures are simply unacceptable.

Some success has been achieved in the industry via Australia’s previous 457 visa class system. Prior to March 2018 when it was abolished, local farmers were able to sponsor skilled overseas workers to work temporarily up to four years in Australia. This enabled the dairy industry to recruit foreigners who had worked for many years on dairy farms or completed tertiary education in agriculture science in their home country.

The Government made changes after the Fair Work Commission found 40 per cent of 457 visa holders were no longer employed by a sponsor or were being paid well below the statutory minimum wage of $53,900. This is significant given Australia’s record high immigration program of 190,000 per annum, most of whom come under the skilled migration program. The unfortunate thing for the dairy industry is that it now must suffer because of other industries abusing the system.

The two new skilled visa classes introduced by the Government include a Short-term stream and a Medium-term stream. The Short-term stream is for employers seeking temporary overseas skilled workers in occupations included on the Short-term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) for up to two years. The Medium-term stream is for employers seeking highly skilled overseas workers to fill medium-term critical skills in occupations on the Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) for up to four years, with eligibility to apply for permanent residence after three years.

Occupations listed on the STSOL and MLTSSL are determined by the Department of Jobs and Small Business based on an annual survey and analysis of the Australian labour market. The issue for the dairy industry is the survey rarely goes out to farmers, so its needs are not reflected in the list determination.

The department uses the occupations listed on the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO). It describes the dairy industry as having one job on farm - a Dairy Cattle Farmer, which is completely out of touch with reality.

The more accurate depiction is Dairy Australia’s National Dairy Farmer Survey, which lists five occupations on a dairy farm. In order of skill these include a Business Manager, Production Manager, Senior Farm Hand, Farm Hand and Assistant Farm Hand. The difference highlights the need for an ANZSCO overhaul to reflect the professional and actual nature of dairy farming in the 21st century.

In March 2018 the Department listed a Dairy Cattle Farmer on the STSOL only. This means the amount of time an immigrant can work on a dairy farm has been reduced from four years under the previous 457-visa system to two years under the new STSOL. Given dairy farm jobs are permanent (as opposed to seasonal) and struggling to attract workers at the senior level, this categorisation is a backward step for the industry.

Resolving labour shortages in the positions of Senior Farm Hand, Production Manager and Business Manager can only be achieved by listing them on the MLTSSL. Skilled migrants will only apply for these roles when they are guaranteed four, not two, years of employment and have a pathway to permanent residence.

The Government must ensure its skilled migration program reflects Australia’s workforce needs. All occupations need to be included in the lists and immigration targets set based on numbers required in each occupation.

Agriculture is a growth industry in Australia. We are working on a plan to increase our gross value of production from $60 billion currently to over $100 billion in 2030. There are many drivers required to achieve this target. A permanent skilled workforce is one of the highest priorities.

Where to from here - the 457 visa

Apr 21, 2017

Dairy is a highly dynamic industry offering lots of opportunities for career growth and development. However, it is no secret that we have domestic labour shortages in regional and rural areas.

Our preference is always to hire Australian workers, but there are not always enough experienced farmhands to meet the demand of our industry. This is despite more than a decade of offering training courses and pathway programs for Australian workers to enter the dairy industry.

ADF has continued to lobby the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) for regulation amendments to visas allowing overseas workers to fill vital on-farm and off-farm roles.

This week, the Government announced that the 457 Temporary Work visa will be abolished and replaced with the completely new Temporary Skill Shortage visa by March 2018. ADF is concerned with the changes and is seeking clarification on many aspects from the DIPB.

We have now been advised that the current visa changes will have no impact on the Dairy Industry Labour Agreement, which allows dairy farmers to recruit senior farm hands. We have been assured that:

  • our existing labour agreements remaining in effect;
  • our existing visa holders not impacted unless they apply for another visa impacted by the changes outside of the labour agreement programme; or
  • new nominations that we intend to lodge/related visa applications are not impacted – including applications for occupations which have been ‘removed’ from the standard programme or are now subject to a caveat in the standard programme but remain specified in our agreement.

We also understand that under these changes, which come into effect immediately:

  • dairy cattle farmers are included on the short-term skilled occupation list and only able to apply for a 2-year visa;
  • 2-year visas can only be renewed once, which will lead to an increase in administrative burden and red tape on farmers looking to access these new visas;
  • dairy, like other agricultural commodities is not included on the medium to long term strategic skilled occupation list to access 4-year visas; and
  • changes have been made to the Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186) visa and to the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 187) visa.

We are still in the process of gaining clarification on what will happen to current visa applicants who are waiting on approvals and the additional occupations available to support regional employers. 

ADF supports the employment of overseas workers to fill vital on-farm roles. We will continue to liaise with government to ensure dairy farmers that need to employ overseas staff can do so.

John McQueen

Interim ADF Chief Executive Officer

 

Labour template to address skills shortage

Aug 18, 2015

Under the Dairy Industry Template Labour Agreement, finalised with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on 17 July 2015, dairy farmers are now able to recruit senior farmhands from overseas on 457 Visas as well as farm managers.

Eligibility for the 457 visa was previously restricted to farm managers which the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) recognises as skill level 1. Feedback indicated however that many farm employers were seeking workers with qualifications one level under management – capable of organising day-to-day operations but not necessarily making major decisions.

The Australian dairy industry is in a position to grow substantially over the next decade to meet the burgeoning demand across Asia for high quality, safe dairy products. Yet the industry’s capacity to increase production is fundamentally constrained by a chronic shortage of skilled labour in the Australian pool.

Recognising this, in 2014 Dairy Australia, in collaboration with Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) approached the Department of Immigration with the Dairy Industry Labour Agreement Template. The agreement is designed to give farmers more options when seeking labour by expanding the eligibility criteria for 457 visas and reducing paperwork.

Chair of ADF Policy Advisory Group in the People and Human Capacity space, John Versteden said the agreement provides another option for farmers to fill the short term skills gap for farmhands in Australian dairy.

“The dairy industry’s most valuable asset is the people who work in it, which is why it is important to commit to attracting, retaining and developing the most skilled labour,” Mr Versteden said.

“While our preference is always to hire Australian workers, there are not enough experienced, available farmhands to meet the demand in a growing industry.”

The industry has invested heavily in training and upskilling its workforce, including via certificate and diploma courses offered through the National Dairy Education Centre (NCDE) since 2006. Although student numbers are steadily growing, it is still not enough to meet dairy’s growing demand for skilled workers as production scales up to meet growing export demand.

Senior farmhands recruited under the labour agreement must have Certificate III or equivalent qualifications in addition to at least three years of recent and relevant experience, or alternatively five years of recent and relevant experience.

You can find further information on the Dairy Industry Labour Agreement Template via http://www.thepeopleindairy.org.au/engagement-reward/contracts-and-agreements.htm


Temporary skilled visas crucial for labour shortage

May 12, 2015

Like many agricultural commodities in Australia, dairy has an acute skilled labour shortage. Although the Australian dairy industry always gives precedence to employing Australian workers, enabling farmers to access skilled overseas workers is a positive way of addressing the gap when suitable domestic labour is not available.

The industry continues to assist farmers in gaining better access to overseas labour, through working to streamline the visa application processes for both farmers and workers. Further work is required by Government in this area to fully address the scope of this issue.

On 30 April 2015, the Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) lodged its submission to the Senate Education and Employment committee’s review into the impact of Australia’s temporary work visa programs on Australia’s labour market and on the temporary work visa holders.

Issues such as the need for improved alignment of the Australian Qualifications Framework and the skill classifications used by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, as well as the extension of 417 and 462 visas from six to 12 months, were key recommendations put forward by the ADIC.

In the submission, the ADIC highlighted the industry’s strong commitment to attracting, developing and retaining a highly skilled domestic workforce through a range of initiatives, including the National Centre for Dairy Education (NCDE), which provides high quality education and training opportunities for people interested in developing a career in dairy.

The Australian dairy industry wholeheartedly supports fair and equal treatment of foreign workers. Recently, ABC’s investigative journalism programFour Cornersfeatured the mistreatment of migrant workers from Asia and Europe on a few poultry and horticulture farms in Australia. Such behaviour is not condoned by the ADIC and runs counter to the industry’s efforts to ensure that dairy farmers are responsible for their employment practices, including fair workplace relations and migration laws.

The Employment Starter Kit initiative (ESKi), which was developed by Dairy Australia in conjunction with Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF), is an example of this. The ESKi has been circulated to over 1,500 dairy farmers across Australia, assisting them in their understanding of Australia’s legal employment requirements, as well as offering information on how to improve working environments for both employees and employers.

For more information about how the ADIC is working to improve dairy’s acute labour shortage, click here or contact ADF Policy Officer, Kelly Im: kim@australiandairyfarmers.com.au.

 

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