(From left) Bowen Gumlu Growers Association admin assistant Brooke Dobe, QITE Harvest Trail Services staff member Danielle James, Tassal people and culture manager Danielle Purdon, Bowen Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker, Bowen Gumlu Growers Association agriculture workforce officer Julia Wheway and Tassal people and culture advisor Jodi Reiffel help link growers with workers. Photo
(From left) Bowen Gumlu Growers Association admin assistant Brooke Dobe, QITE Harvest Trail Services staff member Danielle James, Tassal people and culture manager Danielle Purdon, Bowen Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker, Bowen Gumlu Growers Association agriculture workforce officer Julia Wheway and Tassal people and culture advisor Jodi Reiffel help link growers with workers. Photo

Visa change a ‘good start’ as labour shortage looms

A DECISION to change work limits for student visa holders has been dubbed a step in the right direction by a Bowen grower.

But Bowen Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker says more still needs to be done to ensure farmers have the help they need to avoid a labour shortage for the next picking season.

The Federal Government has announced it will implement a change that would strike out the previous 40-hour fortnight work limit for student visa holders during semesters, if they worked in agriculture.

Students will now be able to work unlimited hours in the sector.

 

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Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the changes would not just give temporary visa holders the ability to earn more income, they would also help farmers this harvest season and avoid food going to waste.

"These temporary visa holders are already in Australia, many do not want to or cannot go home and they will be greatly valued in the agriculture sector," he said.

"It will also be easier for temporary visa holders to access the COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa, if they choose to work in the agriculture sector."

Visa holders can now apply for the COVID-19 visa up to 90 days before their existing visa runs out and they do not need to demonstrate their attempts to depart Australia.

Mr Walker, who has been calling for the government to be more lenient on visas, said the previous limit of 20 hours a week meant taking up the work was not worthwhile for many student visa holders.

Bowen Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker, Queensland Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner with Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan, Mr Susumu Hamamura, and Consul-General Mr Kazunari Tanaka.
Bowen Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker, Queensland Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner with Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan, Mr Susumu Hamamura, and Consul-General Mr Kazunari Tanaka.

But the new unlimited working hours meant both workers and farmers benefited.

"Most of these ones, they're good little workers because they're trying to make money to keep themselves going," Mr Walker said.

"They go back to the cities and spend it on education, shopping, I think it's a good outcome.

"We make some money and spend it around town."

Mr Walker said the change was a good start, but more needed to be done to address the potential labour shortage.

This included ensuring workers knew their rights in terms of visas and encouraging Australians to help out.

While workers could also be sourced from the Pacific Islands, Mr Walker said the area would not provide enough support and the requirement to isolate when they arrived could also pose a challenge.

Pushing for a bubble with New Zealand was also important, he said.

"We're going to need all hands on deck, not just in Queensland," Mr Walker said.

"We need to encourage everyone if they want to go somewhere beautiful for the winter, if you want to avoid the cold winters, come on up."

US tourist Ryan Gordon throwing tomatoes onto back of truckwhile vegetable picking at Childers.
US tourist Ryan Gordon throwing tomatoes onto back of truckwhile vegetable picking at Childers.

Mr Walker said the economy in the Whitsundays and Burdekin depended on the health of the tourism and farming industries.

"Farming and tourism, that's feeding our shops, our pubs, our clubs, our supermarkets," he said.

"If you cut those numbers down by half and we're walking away from product that is not being picked, it means people who would normally be here and spending money will not be doing that."

Despite enduring a tough 2020 and now facing a potential labour shortage, Mr Walker still saw a silver lining, saying the best Christmas present growers and graziers received was rain.

"It's been tough times for everyone when it comes to the drought," he said.

"The message out to my colleagues in farming is thanks very much for your hard work and sometimes we feel unappreciated but I think we all know we appreciate each other."

For more information about available jobs, email harvesttrailservices@qite.com or phone 1800 464 800.

More information on the COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa is available here.


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