THE National Farmers’ Federation was addressing chronic labour shortages in the farming sector at the Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra recently.
The NFF described the issue as one of the root issues “stunting Australia’s farm sector”.
The peak farming lobby identified four core barriers to securing skilled and unskilled labour, and offered practical and achievable solutions.
NFF president Fiona Simson said farmers had struggled to fill skilled and unskilled jobs for years – an issue intensified by COVID-19.
Ms Simson said even before the pandemic, farmers were reducing plantings or shifting to less labour-intensive produce.
“Recent weather has thrown curveballs at food production,” Ms Simson said.
“Couple that with issues like the workforce crisis, and the result has been gaps on supermarket shelves, families struggling with the price of food and weakening food security.
“This goes to the heart of the cost of living in Australia. Governments can’t control the weather, but they can ease the workforce crisis.”
The NFF has pointed out challenges that include the complexity of the industrial relations framework as well as failings in the migration system.
It also cited a lack of support for agricultural skills development and community perceptions about the nature of farm work.
“We have real challenges and we’ve waiting a long time for solutions,” Ms Simson said.
“We’re going into the Summit being honest about those problems and offering up carefully considered solutions that we think anyone can get behind.”
The NFF put forward 40 recommendations including plans to boost training opportunities, stamp out exploitation, speed up visa processing, and simplify the industrial relations system.
“There is no silver bullet to this crisis, we need to pull every lever available. After all, this isn’t just a farmer issue, it’s hurting our economy and ultimately, every Australian,” Ms Simson said.
“We look forward to participating fully at next week’s summit and in following policy processes to build consensus for immediate actions that will ease the pressure on farmers and consumers.”
However, Ms Simson warned the summit needed short, medium and long-term approaches, with targets to match.
“The government must identify measurable targets to hold this event to account and make sure it’s not just a talkfest,” she said.