Skilled migrant labour vital for dairy

May 03, 2018

It isn’t easy being a dairy farmer. A lot of people think we just milk cows all day, but the reality is farmers need a wide range of skills to manage a sustainable farm business.

In fact, the National Centre for Dairy Education estimated that dairy farmers need over 170 different skills to run a successful farm business.

Apart from milking, farmers have to feed livestock, make hay and silage, operate machinery, protect waterways, manage milk quality assurance and supervise staff.

It really is a skilled profession, and one that rarely gets the credit it deserves. This is underscored by the crippling skills shortage that the industry continues to face.

To this end, we rely on our political representatives to address the problem. Unfortunately, there is still a misapprehension from some in Canberra that farming is an unskilled industry which should be able to source labour from the pool of unemployed in regional areas.

Reality again is different. The local labour just doesn’t exist, and many dairy employers rely on skilled migrants brought to Australia under subclass 457 visas to fill core on-farm roles. Many farmers even consider overseas workers to be integral to their long-term business strategy.

The dairy industry has found the 457 visa very useful. It has enabled us to recruit skilled workers from overseas for farm management roles. And it has also given these workers a pathway to permanent residency. Everybody wins.

We were struck a blow when the 457 visa was abolished and replaced from March this year by the Temporary Skill Shortage visa, a scheme that operates in two streams – for short-term labour for up to two years with the option of a two-year renewal, and for medium-term labour for up to four years. Only the second stream offers the possibility of permanent residency.

Industries eligible under each stream is determined by the Regional Occupations List. Dairy farming is currently listed as a short-term skill, which will only hamper our ability to use the scheme because the prospect of permanent residency is an important factor in attracting skilled overseas workers.

It should be clear to even casual onlookers that agricultural industries are not just facing a “temporary” skills shortage. This is a problem we have been battling for years and one that will only grow worse unless it is addressed now.

It is strange that dairy farming has remained on the Regional Occupations List yet has not been placed on the Medium Labour TSS.

One concern is that dairy farming could be wiped from the list entirely when the list is reviewed in July. We can’t let that happen and advocates in the industry – including Australian Dairy Farmers and Dairy Australia – are working to ensure farmers’ voices remain strong on this issue.

It is vital that while the skills shortage persists, dairy farmers remain on the Regional Occupations List and that the federal Government take immediate action to allow skilled overseas workers to gain longer visas and a pathway to permanent residency.

Given the size of the dairy industry it will take considerable time to correct the documented skills shortage with suitably qualified Australian workers.

In the meantime, dairy farmers will continue to struggle to staff their businesses with skilled workers and need to have reliable access to skilled overseas workers.

Let’s not forget that farmers are not the only people who stand to benefit from allowing skilled overseas workers opportunities in Australia. A recent report into the rural workforce found that immigrant farmers not only fill labour shortages, but they also bring with them new technological insights gained overseas to apply to Australian farming, providing a valuable contribution to regional Australia.

As the Regional Occupations List comes under review, this insight hopefully provides our decision-makers with food for thought and an urgent lifeline to an industry that still faces a critical shortage of skilled labour.

Nation-wide roadshow kicks off in Tasmania

Jun 17, 2016

Representatives from Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) embarked on a series of national roadshows beginning in Tasmania on 4 May, in partnership with state dairy farming members.

Comprised of a series of farmer focused forums across the course of 2016, the roadshow offers farmers the opportunity to engage with national and state dairy member representatives on the issues most important to them and their region.

The roadshow is also an opportunity to get up to speed on progress and developments which have occurred over the past year, as well as talking through the industry’s election priorities for 2016.

ADF Senior Policy Manager, David Losberg said the regional forums would provide farmers with the opportunity to discuss the issues of critical importance to their region.

“Our industry is experiencing unprecedented challenges at present and we want our members and the public to engage with us, and ensure their interests are effectively represented. Our aim for these forums is to help provide clarity on the policy support mechanisms secured on farmers’ behalf and facilitate opportunities to make recommendations for future improvements.”

“Now more than ever it’s important that our farmers know who is representing their interests, and that we are tirelessly working on your behalf with minimal resources to gain the results farmers need to be successful in businesses and provide succession opportunities.”

Since May, ADF has visited dairy regions in Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland. Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation President, Brian Tessmann said the forums were a valuable opportunity for members to air their thoughts and express their needs to the people who represent them.

“The ADF Roadshows are always useful and insightful for our Queensland farmer members. The most recent events in Warwick and Maleny were extremely timely and helpful for our members who had a number of national industry questions given the situation down south.”

“It is important that we continue to work closely with ADF to continue getting results for our members at a national level and events such as these ensure that ADF have the opportunity to hear directly from Queensland farmers.”

The next roadshow forum takes place in Western Australia on 26 July. For more information on the roadshow schedule or any other details please contact Shona McPherson, ADF Media Officer via media@australiandairyfarmers.com.au or mobile 0447 293 844.

 

Representatives from ADF and QDO speak with farmers at the Maleny Dairy event in June. 

 

 

Protecting workforce wellbeing

Apr 14, 2016

Implementing formal occupational health and safety plans on farm is not just the right thing to do, it can also benefit businesses, guests heard at the Australian Dairy Industry Council’s (ADIC) Business Breakfast in April.

Addressing an audience of dairy farmers, manufacturers and industry leaders at the event themed ‘Protecting what matters: ensuring the health, safety and well-being of our workforce’, an expert panel explored the opportunities for dairy to improve its workforce safety and well-being.

The panel included Dairy Australia’s Program Manager for Industry Workforce Planning and Action, Bill Youl, Worksafe Victoria’s Bruce Gibson, Lion’s Leader for Safety and Well-being Josh Norton, Field Services Manager at Fonterra Robyn Mitchard and Director of the National Centre for Farmer Health, Dr Susan Brumby. Mr Youl observed that, as well as being the right things to do, safeguarding the workforce makes sense for farm profitability.

“A safe work environment will ensure accidents are minimised, productivity is enhanced and the full benefits of farm and manufacturing facilities realised. Our physical and mental well-being is intrinsically linked to our industry’s success,” Mr Youl said.

ADIC Chair, Simone Jolliffe encouraged the industry representatives in the room to take leadership and drive a culture shift to safeguard the sustainability of the industry’s workforce.

“Dairy farms are not typical workplaces. There are many potential risks, and stressful situations – particularly because we are often operating in a family environment, where there is the added pressure of the day-to-day challenges of running a small business,” Mrs Jolliffe said.

“Dairy Australia is already working with state safety regulators and dairy manufacturers to provide farmers with the tools and training they need to operate safely. As an industry we need to work more collaboratively to ensure uptake and implementation, to move the workforce from ‘knowing’ to ‘doing’.”

The Dairy Industry’s Sustainability Framework has set targets for the industry to achieve by 2020. One of the targets is 100% of on-farm and manufacturing workers to have completed Occupational Health & Safety training by 2020. A further target is zero workplace fatalities. Mrs Jolliffe said the industry is falling behind on both accounts.

“Tragically there have already been two confirmed workplace fatalities in our industry this year. Workplace injuries have also risen. Across Australia, one in five people suffering with mental health challenges. This is not acceptable. We need to lead the industry in prioritising health, safety and well-being – for the benefit of our industry.”

The ADIC made a commitment at the breakfast to drive change across the industry through improved collaboration between service providers, processors and industry representative bodies. For information about occupational health, safety and well-being see www.thepeopleindairy.org.au

The expert panel from left to right, Bruce Gibson, Susan Brumby, Josh Norton, John Versteden, Robyn Mitchard and Bill Youl.


 

March 2016 President's Message

Apr 04, 2016

2016 is proving to be a challenging year for dairy farmers. Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) recently visited members in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia, and across the country farmers are confronted with low milk prices, increased input costs, and dry weather conditions.

This continued volatility is a reminder of how dependent farming is on a lot of things which are outside our control.

Dairy farmers are realists and they are resilient business operators. Adaptability has become critical to successful dairy business ventures. Realistic solutions frequently involve working to address the issues we can control, while also accepting that some things are outside our reach. What those solutions look like will differ from one business to another.
 
The Sustainable Farm Profitability Report produced by the Australian Dairy Industry Council and Dairy Australia last year provides some useful tactical management advice to help safeguard businesses during this challenging period.
 
Through our discussions with both State and Federal Governments ADF continues to advocate for a more competitive business environment, and ensure access to the resources essential to dairying. Dairy industry advocacy has seen vital progress of late with the introduction of an ‘effects test’ as well as a review of the proposed ‘backpacker tax’ and bringing in more flexible water policy. These are important achievements that will help deliver a more profitable and sustainable industry in the long term.
 
Dairy Australia also has important resources to assist in preparation and recovery from different conditions. Services provided by programs such as the Tactics for Tight Times provide a good vehicle for analysing the individual business and developing solutions.
 
Integral to this future is ensuring we protect what matters, by working to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our workforce. In recent meetings, both processors and farmers have highlighted this issue as crucial to the future of our industry. I look forward to identifying ways in which our industry can support our people’s physical and mental wellbeing with many of you at the Australian Dairy Industry Council’s Business Breakfast in April.
 
With the ongoing challenges our industry faces exacerbated by drought and tough seasonal conditions, I encourage you all to look out for one another and provide assistance where you can.

 

Simone Jolliffe

ADF President

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