In an effort to stem a critical labour shortage, a new budget package contains provisions to allow backpackers, Pacific Islanders and seasonal workers to extend their visas to stay in Australia longer, while welfare recipients will be offered incentives to join the harvest trail and pick fruit, according to a report by The Australian.

The measures are intended to bolster Australia’s growers, who face a workforce gap of nearly 30,000 people by March, The Australian reported. In a report on the horticulture industry’s labour gap during the COVID-19 crisis, EY found that growers expected to be unable to fill four out of 10 short-term roles over the next six to 12 months.

International and state border closures are the biggest hurdles farmers face in finding enough short-term workers to help with the harvests. In order to help stem that shortfall, the Morrison government will remove conditions on visas used by working holidaymakers and other foreign nationals that would otherwise force them to return home, The Australian reported. For example, the age limit of 30 on the working holidaymaker visa will be removed, so that people 31 and older could continue working in agriculture.

The budget also introduces incentives for Australians on the Youth Allowance to seek farm employment. JobSeeker and Youth Allowance recipients will be encouraged to harvest produce, and will be able to earn up to $300 per fortnight from a farmer before welfare payments are reduced, according to The Australian.

While Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the government would “throw the kitchen sink” at the labour shortfall, he warned that in the current climate of reduced international travel, the government could not raise expectations that the problem would be totally solved “unless Australians are prepared to get up and have a crack.”

The worst labour shortages are expected in Victoria and Tasmania due to their border closures to the rest of the country and high production of labour-intensive produce like table grapes and berries, The Australian reported.


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