Foreign farm labour changing the face of rural Australia

Post image for Foreign farm labour changing the face of rural Australia

THE image of the sun-bronzed Australian farmer may be fading with agricultural workers increasingly likely to be from Estonia, Taiwan and Korea than the Outback as the labour crisis hits the sector.

Current estimates put at around 100,000 the number of jobs vacant on Australian farms, a gap caused by the massive wages available in the mining industry and the ability of farm workers to adapt to the hard, often-isolated work.

The competition opens another fight between the two pillars of the Queensland economy that are also battling over land access for coal seam gas and mining.

Mungindi cotton farmer Barb Grey said she was interviewing people from Estonia and Scotland to work on her farm, six hours’ drive west of Brisbane.

Without access to overseas labour to fill the three permanent jobs and up to four casuals, Mrs Grey said she had no idea how the business would cope.

“We would really love to employ Aussies to live in Mungindi and have a career in agriculture even if they don’t have a background in farming,” she said.

She said that while the debate had been mostly about getting skilled workers into Australia, there was also a huge demand in the bush for semi-skilled and low-skilled workers.

“I don’t know that we have enough people in Australia, hence the need to go overseas. Korea and Taiwan are a wonderful resource,” she said.

She currently has two South Africans on the property and is looking for a third full-time worker. Farmers generally pay about $35,000 a year, compared with three times that for skilled workers in the mines.

But even the mines are struggling to fill vacancies with an estimated 4000 positions unfilled in the Bowen Basin coalmines.

Mrs Grey said the issue was not just the money offered in mines, but the lack of marketing of agriculture as a career.

The younger generation were also the most technologically savvy ever and were less likely to see the hard farm work as attractive.

Toowoomba-based Agri Labour has dozens of jobs ranging from mushroom pickers to poultry attendants.

Queensland Farmers Federation chief executive Dan Galligan said the attraction and retention of appropriately skilled and motivated workers for farms and agribusiness was the biggest challenge for the rural sector.

“The skills shortage is particularly acute near mining regions and mining service centres. This is especially the case throughout central Queensland and around places such as Mackay, Dalby, Emerald and Gladstone,” Mr Galligan said.

“The short-term option may be to use migrants but this may be simply a short-term fix and not a sustainable response in the long run,” he said.


Previous post:

Next post: