Calling for consultation over planned visa changes

Victoria’s farmer group is paving the way for talks with the Federal Government on workforce reforms after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced plans to scrap the 457 visa stream for temporary skilled workers.

The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has called on the Federal Government to open the door for industry to get a seat at the table in any planned overhaul of the visa system in a bid to avoid the same breakdown in negotiations that befell the controversial backpacker tax.

“Any discussion over visa changes presents new opportunities to discuss a tailored working visa program to assist agriculture’s workforce needs and industry needs a seat at the table,” VFF President David Jochinke said.

“Everyone is still licking their wounds over the messy negotiations around the backpacker tax, and no-one wants to see that scenario played out for a second time.

“Industry needs to take a pragmatic approach and hold itself out to government as open to discussion over the planned changes.”

Prime Minister Turnbull said in a press conference that the Federal Government planned to introduce two new visa streams that would tighten restrictions on temporary skilled workers, including requiring applicants to have two years’ prior work experience and higher English language skills, as well as be subject to mandatory police history checks.

But Mr Jochinke said while the VFF agreed with the broad policy statement outlined by the Prime Minister, the agriculture industry still faced a critical skills shortage that needed to be addressed.

“Farmers who employ staff know how hard it is to match the right skills to the right job, and industry needs to ask what the changes would mean to an industry that already has problems calling on local labour to fill skills gaps,” he said.

“We don’t disagree with what Prime Minister Turnbull has said so far, but the Federal Government needs to think carefully about how the work experience requirement would work under a new scheme. The last thing we want is capable workers being excluded from the scheme because they haven’t worked in similar farm environments.

“Industry needs to be made aware of how the proposed changes could impact employment in the agriculture sector and given the chance to voice concerns and offer suggestions before the Federal Government goes ahead with any reforms to the current system.”