Meat industry irate over visa cull

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
WAMMCO chief executive Coll MacRury.
Camera IconWAMMCO chief executive Coll MacRury. Credit: Bob Garnant

The meat industry has warned that the Federal Government’s scrapping of temporary access to skilled overseas workers would cause difficulty for food producers.

Last week’s unexpected axing of the 457 visa scheme for skilled foreign workers has left many in the farming, meat processing and other labour-intensive industries reeling about the likelihood of the controversial move lifting the cost of production in already marginal industries.

The move will mean the Government would slash the number of occupations available for the two-year visa, down from the current tally of more than 650.

The eligible positions that will be cut under two new foreign skilled worker visa programs include goat, deer and turf farmers, shearers, wool buyers and classers, stock and station agents, butchers and smallgoods makers, horse trainers and jockeys.

Abattoirs, food processors, piggeries, dairy farms and regional tourism operators are the largest employer of skilled foreign workers and the big users of the 457 visa scheme outside of the cities.

The Australian Meat Industry Council said there had been a lack of consultation, resulting in uncertainty over the announcement.

The group said the move had the potential to impact on the future viability of the industry, which was already under pressure from external challenges, including the worst terms of trade on record, high input costs and increasing regulatory burdens.

AMIC spokesman Patrick Hutchinson said meat processors were the largest employers in rural and regional Australia, after mining, and the unexpected announcement had sent shock waves through the industry.

“There are so many questions we simply don’t have answers to and quite frankly, that isn’t good enough,” he said.

“We don’t know what occupations will be impacted, as outlined by the Federal Immigration Minister, and how in turn this will affect the industry.

“We don’t know how the outcomes of the ‘Best and Brightest’ test will be applied. We don’t know about what access the sector will have to the training fund.

“There is also a great deal of uncertainty regarding the status of existing 457 visa applications that have not yet been approved.”

Mr Hutchinson said a number of unique skill sets were required in the sector and a critical number of these were filled by employees on 457 visas.

“Recruitment of staff always has been and always will be about finding people with the right skill set for the job, who are willing to work within our industry environment in regional and rural Australia,” he said.

“We are relieved that current 457 visa holders will be unaffected by the announcement.”

Western Australian Meat Marketing Co-operative Limited chief executive Coll MacRury said the decision by the Federal Government to scrap 457 visas would not hurt its processing business, but may have a negative impact on the co-operative more broadly.

“Our Goulburn plant in NSW is quite reliant on overseas labour, but thankfully we’ve been able to shield ourselves to a degree from using 457 visa workers in more recent times by instead employing labour accessed through the Working Holiday visa program,” he said. “WAMMCO used to use 457 visa workers in the mid-2000s, but the decision to move away from doing that was driven largely by cost.

“It was also a very onerous way to acquire labour because all the responsibility for the welfare of the visa worker was held by the employer, which was unworkable in the end.

“In the end though, this decision the Government has taken is rubbish for the industry because it will impact on regional towns most heavily by impacting on the cost of livestock production.”

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