Agriculture industry hits out at new levy on employing foreign workers

by Ray Clancy on May 12, 2017

in Jobs in Australia

Farmers and rural businesses in Australia have demanded that the Government rethink its new levy on foreign workers, which they believe will have a significant impact on their ability to employ people from abroad.

They say it will make it harder and more expensive for them to recruit key skilled works from overseas in key roles in dairy, pork horticulture, racing, fruit and vegetables. This could mean fewer opportunities for people wanting to work in Australia.

(NejroN Photo/Bigstock.com)

From March 2018 an annual foreign worker levy of $1,200 or $1,800 per worker, depending on the size of the business, per year will be imposed on temporary work visas while employers sponsoring permanent skilled visas will face a $3,000 or $5,000 levy.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the new levy will be used for training people in Australia for the kind of jobs for which employers seek skilled worker from abroad. He pointed out that under the existing arrangement where employers employing foreign workers are required to contribute 1% or 2% of their payroll to training, has been difficult to police.

‘Skilled migration has always played a significant role in driving our economic growth. But it must be on our terms and we must skill more Australians to secure jobs,’ he explained, adding that $1.2 billion will be raised from the levy over four years that will contribute directly to a new Commonwealth-State Skilling Australians Fund and States and Territories will only be able to draw on this fund when they deliver on their commitments to train new apprentices.

But vegetable industry peak body AusVeg has called for exemptions for small businesses in regional and remote areas which rely on skilled labour from overseas and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) said it was seeking further discussions with the Government.

‘The cost of doing business in remote and regional Australia is already well above and beyond what it is to the city, and for Government to blanket costs like that over the whole lot I think is probably unfair,’ said Western Australian fruit grower and AusVeg board member, Michael Nixon, adding that the levy will be a significant cost for the horticultural industry.

According to Australian Dairy Farmers, the new levy would hit the industry hard at a time when it was struggling to stay afloat. Up to half the workforce on larger dairies are foreign workers and many farmers are unable to find people in Australia. One farmer explained that he advertised for farm workers six weeks ago and was still looking for employees with the appropriate animal husbandry, pasture management, and supervisory skills.

Many farmers believe a new specialist agriculture visa would be a good idea for the industry. The idea has been raised by the National Farmers Federation (NFF), which wants a comprehensive review of the labour force needs in agriculture.

Australian Pork said that the increased costs associated with skilled migration visas were potentially significant at a time when farmers are trying to fill critical skill shortages and pointed out that the new levy comes on top of already higher application fees for the new temporary skills shortage visa.

Meanwhile, the racing industry said it will also be hit by the new levy. According to Racing Australia there is already a severe shortage of skilled track work riders and yards have no option but to recruit from abroad.

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