It's incredible how reliant we are on seasonal labour from overseas.

  • AU’s Working Holiday Makers (WHM) scheme takes around 45,000 workers in a normal season
  • AU also has the Seasonal Workers Programme (SWP) which takes an additional 12,000
  • NZ’s most common scheme is Regional Seasonal Employer Scheme (RSE Scheme) with about 12,000 workers, set to go to 16,000 in 2020/21

AU is the most popular destination for WHM’s in the OECD, taking 44% of the total
Note: SWP and RSE draws workers mainly from the Pacific and is of immense economic benefit to the islands as workers send their earnings back to the villages.

The horticultural industry is particularly vulnerable, and we forget that once the crop comes off they head into pruning, then thinning and so on. This problem though touches every area of agriculture; dairy employs a lot of skilled migrants who can’t get back in, and arable/broadacre in NZ is short 200 heavy machinery operators with Western Australia short 2000. That’s massive and training locals won’t cut it:
NZ’s GoDairy Campaign – a $3.5m 3 week Government training initiative, launched in June, has produced “only a handful” of graduates against a target of 500 – 1000. They had 252 people register, 104 start the course but few completions. Seems getting your hands dirty is not popular.

WA’s Muresk Institute – has a free short course to train header drivers but farmers and contractors are not very enthusiastic about giving first timers getting the keys of an $800k machine, and who can blame them.

“We are concerned that Australian workers just aren’t interested in this sort of work”, Scott Morrison.
He’s right there but he’s announced, not only a plan to allow farmers to cross state borders (very sensible), but also an intention to “restart the Seasonal Workers Programme” for next year’s harvest. Additionally they’re discussing targeting “Australian Backpackers”; essentially displaced AU workers.


Plus it still doesn’t address the need for more skilled labour such as header drivers. Seasonal worker accessibility, skilled and unskilled is a major issue. A solution will be found, simply because it has to be, it’s a widely publicised high stakes problem. The workers exist, it’s the logistics under covid they will need to be looking at.

Tracta | Champions of Agribusiness - Rural Specialist

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