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457 visas – the picture for rural Australia

457 worker visas play an important role in rural Australia ; from everything from welding to engineering, abattoirs to fruit picking.

The current debate over 457 visas at a federal level has largely centred on the urban workforce, but regional industries say they’re being left out. Skilled labour is in short supply in some areas and 457 visas are a valuable way to keep some industries operating.

The National Farmers Federation says the Federal Government’s decision to tighten the rules governing access to 457 visas will make it harder for the agriculture industry.

The NFF says with so many workers being attracted to the mining industry, agriculture relies on overseas workers to fill the void. Chair of the Workplace Relations Committee at the NFF, Charles Armstrong, says any tightening of the rules could hurt farmers.

“Given the purpose of 457 visas is to help Australian businesses source the skilled workers they need when they are unable to find suitable skilled labour domestically, we would like to see the visas extended to cover skills not already included – including those required for agriculture.

Ultimately, we would also like to see the outdated ANZSCO codes revised to reflect modern agriculture employment,” he says.

Cameron Dart is general manager with AWX employment services which places people to work across the country. He says many regional services like pharmacies or engineering rely on 457 visas for staff, and it’s not often local workers miss out because of jobs going to 457 skilled workers.

Pacific Worker scheme in demand in horticulture

While the Prime Minister claims the 457 visa, seasonal worker program is full of rorts, farmers say they need the workers, but the program is bogged down by administrative red tape and delays. 700 workers from the Pacific have come to work in Australia’s horticulture sector in the past nine months.

One of Australia’s ‘Approved Employers’ says her eight Ni-Vanuatu workers are reliable, hard working and a delight to have around.

The Vernview apple orchard in Victoria’s Yarra Valley is home to a group of happy workers who are using their pay to improve their lives in their home country.

Dairy industry also concerned at potential visa changes

Tasmania’s dairy industry body is concerned an inquiry into 457 visa’s may see the program diminished at a time when demand is expected to increase.

The Federal government is to review the 457 visa program while the ACTU says it’s gathering evidence of the misuse of the foreign worker scheme.

Dairy Tas executive officer Mark Smith says up to 30 and possibly more workers have been employed in the dairy industry, but more across Tasmanian rural industries. He says with an expected growth in the Tasmanian industry he expects more demand for workers through the 457 visa program.

Fruit pickers worried about backpacker labour

While fruit picking is a job that’s synonymous with backpackers in Australia but what about the locals. Fruit pickers say it costs more to employ Australians which means employers are ignoring them and taking on backpackers instead.

The locals are worried this trend will continue as they say its been harder to find work in recent years.

Courtesy of ABC -Rural

Administrators note:

The thrust of this article  is rural employers’ reliance on 457 visas, however there is a bigger problem with this workforce profile. Ever since the federal government abolished the regional 457 visa program in September 2009, employers in the bush have struggled to meet  the relatively high salary threshold level of $51,400 (same as the urban salary threshold). Salaries for some reason and indeed contrary to logic where skills are in shortage, are lower in the bush than in the urban areas and often below the 457 visa  threshold figure. This effectively cuts a large section of rural employers out of the 457 visa program. For those who cannot compete on salary at least,  an alternative employers have reverted to is the regional permanent sponsored alternative (RSMS) because there is no threshold in place, simply the market salary requirement.

However there are still many who are using the 457 skilled worker visa program. The government (seemingly driven by the unions) has to be very careful not throw the baby out with the bathwater with its almost hysterical attack on the 457 program in this election year. The federal government seems incapable – despite the spin- to treat rural labour as a special case.  The rationale for dispensing with the regional 457 visa years ago was because they were being mis-used, and the new proposed Regional Migration agreements  (RMAs) (introduced only recently after a considerable hiatus) would allow skill shortages to be more directly targeted by those effected and overseen by local councils etc. The jury is out on how this system will work, however any system which increases bureaucratic involvement- at council level god forbid-  is arguably doomed to fail.

To change the face of a system working well for the most part because of some union identified bad apples is short-sighted. Authorities have to recognise that wherever there is a system allowing concessions or opportunities, there will be employers (and some employees) who will seek to test that system. Any such system is only as good as its enforceability.

The concerns expressed by rural employers about the perceived need to tighten up the 457 visa system, are driven by the fear  that any changes will hit them harder than their urban counterparts. It will in reality make life even tougher, when in truth governments should be making it easier for rural employers to employ staff and also making it more attractive for workers to move into rural areas by supporting and providing basic services to those prepared to make the move.