Horticulture

Rich seasonal pickings

By Country News

While there are temporary shortages of workers in some regions during peak harvest periods, MADEC says the total working hours contributed by visiting seasonal farm workers for horticulture is at an all-time high.

MADEC’s National Harvest Labour Information Service state manager Peter Angel said he appreciated it could be hard at times to secure workers.

‘‘Growers can feel frustrated during peak harvest times when they need good workers and can’t find them,’’ he said.

‘‘But there are workers available if you know where to look and commit to paying them fairly.’’

A major source of seasonal workers continues to be work and holiday visas, known as 462 visas, and working holiday visas, known as 417 visas, and people on Seasonal Worker Program visas.

‘‘The full-time equivalent number of people available to do seasonal rural work on these three visas combined is the highest it has ever been,’’ Mr Angel said.

‘‘MADEC sees the challenge is to ensure growers are connected with all these available workers at the right times to fill seasonal work vacancies, not a shortage of workers per se.’’

MADEC said the big increase in workers had been in the number of Seasonal Worker Program visas granted, which had close to doubled every two years since the program was piloted in 2009 and fully introduced in 2012.

Up until November 5 last year, people on Seasonal Worker Program visas could work up to six months in rural Australia but can now work up to nine months.

From July 1, backpackers on 462 and 417 visas are able to stay in Australia for three years if they do an additional six months of horticulture work in regional areas on top of the previously required three months.

‘‘While these figures don’t show the whole picture, they are a very useful indicator,’’ Mr Angel said.

‘‘Some large-scale growers with a strong online presence tell me they get too many people applying for their seasonal jobs, so they refer workers on to smaller growers who don’t have such resources.

‘‘For most of the time, growers who know where to source labour, are prepared to pay correct award wages or fair piece rates, and treat workers well, will almost always find sufficient, committed, motivated workers.’’