The dairy sector has sought urgent clarification on planned changes to 457 visas.
The government this week announced it was axing the 457 category, to be replaced by a Temporary Skill Shortage Visa.
Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) interim chief executive John McQueen said he was seeking assurances there would not be any changes to the Dairy Industry Labour Agreement.
Mr McQueen said access to skilled workers was essential to the continued growth and productivity of the dairy industry, yet there was still a critical shortage of skilled farm workers.
“The dairy industry relies on skilled migration to bolster its workforce and help our farmers with critical labour shortages,” Mr McQueen said.
“Our preference is always to hire Australian workers, but there are not enough experienced workers to meet the demand.”
Under the template agreement, finalised with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in July 2015, dairyfarmers can recruit skilled senior farmhands from overseas on 457 visas, as well as farm managers.
Mr McQueen said the dairy industry had been investing heavily in recruitment, training and retention programs since 2006, and would continue to do so.
“We are concerned that instead of addressing farmers worries and streamlining the application process, the changes could mean more red tape by placing an even greater administrative burden on farmers,” Mr McQueen said.
Mr McQueen said more detail on the Government’s new visa program was required and ADF would be consulting government on the changes.
Coorimungle, Vic, dairyfarmer Chris Vogels said most of his workers were from overseas.
“We don’t have many on 457’s, but we were planning on using them quite a bit,” Mr Vogels said.
“I don’t know what the changes are, it’s going to make it harder to get staff, it’s going to be a big problem.”
Mr Vogels, and his wife Julie, milk 1500 cows, in two dairies, south of Timboon, employing 15 staff.
“We were looking at 457s, if the government tightens up on other visas as well, it’s making it harder and harder – if they want a dairy industry, they need to relax some of those rules," he said.
“On these big farms, we need a lot of labor and unfortunately local labor doesn’t want to milk cows at 3am in the middle of winter.”
And the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) called on the federal government to give primary producers a seat at the table, in any planned overhaul of the visa system.
VFF president David Jochinke said the sector was keen to avoid the same breakdown in negotiations that last year 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,” Mr Jochinke said.
“Everyone is still licking their wounds over the messy negotiations around the backpacker tax last year, and no one wants to see that scenario played out for a second time.”