ANOTHER tool to help ease worker shortage woes has been placed into Australian horticulture's toolbox with the implementation of the Horticulture Industry Labour Agreement (HILA) this year.
Acting minister for immigration, Alan Tudge, signed off on the agreement in December 2019. It came into effect on January 1 this year.
The HILA will enable approved businesses to sponsor skilled and semi-skilled overseas workers from a select list of occupations to fill jobs where growers can demonstrate there are no local workers able or willing to fill them.
It is the largest and most comprehensive labour agreement in Australia following the acceptance of 31 occupations as well as important concessions to the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) and the visa being uncapped.
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Other agricultural sectors, including the dairy, pork and meat industries, have similar agreement in place.
Ausveg was one of the main pushers for the agreement, working in conjunction with the wider horticulture industry through the National Farmers Federation Horticulture Council, plus other horticulture industry bodies and migration experts.
Ausveg chief executive officer, James Whiteside said the HILA was another step forward to address the horticulture industry's labour shortages.
"Horticulture growers, not just those in the vegetable industry, need a skilled workforce to use sophisticated technologies to efficiently plant, harvest and package their products to local and international consumers," Mr Whiteside said.
"Horticulture businesses require skilled people to undertake technical and highly-skilled jobs to help drive their businesses, and the wider $13 billion horticulture industry, forward in what is a critical juncture for Australian agriculture to reach its target of $100 billion by 2030.
This agreement will enable us to continue producing the world's best fruit in a highly competitive global environment.
"Growers always prefer to employ local skilled workers, but there are considerable barriers in accessing them, from a lack of vocational and higher education opportunities in this space, to a lack of horticulture technical expertise in Australia."
Citrus Australia CEO, Nathan Hancock, said the HILA was a positive move.
"When citrus businesses are unable to source the professional labour they need from within Australia, the HILA will enable them to find skilled people to fill positions in areas of management, specialist computing equipment, electricians, pest scouts and agronomists, amongst others," Mr Hancock said.
"This agreement will enable us to continue producing the world's best fruit in a highly competitive global environment."
Mr Tudge said the government had worked with growers and industry representatives to negotiate the agreement.
"Our first priority is always to fill jobs with Australians, but the immigration system can play an important role in helping to address regional skills gaps and grow local economies," Mr Tudge said.
He said the agreement complements existing migration programmes to support regional employers and communities, including the Working Holiday Maker Programme, Seasonal Worker Programme, the Pacific Labour Scheme and Designated Area Migration Agreements (DAMAs).
- For more information, visit: https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/what-we-do/skilled-migration-program/recent-changes