It has been widely publicised that seasonal workers and backpackers have been a primary source of casual and temporary labour for agriculture and that reduced availability of such labour due to Covid19 restrictions has created a severe shortfall which has adversely impacted on agricultural production. Less well known is the continuing and long term decline in the supply of permanent unskilled and semi-skilled labour.
Traditionally farming families have been a source of agricultural workers but due to the trend towards larger landholdings, the number of farming families is declining and hence the number of Australian farm workers entering the industry is also diminishing. On top of this trend, there is the constant drift from regional locations to the city, together with the attraction of better remuneration in the mining industry.
The livestock and cropping sectors, the largest employers in the Ag sector (combined, representing 42% of all farm labour), have been particularly adversely affected by these trends. Widespread rain in 2020 which has continued in 2021, has led to demand exceeding supply for Station Hands, Farm Operatives, Cropping Managers, Farm Managers and the like. Remuneration for farm labour has traditionally lagged behind wage increases for other sectors of the economy, but currently there is a catch-up occurring. Good candidates with experience are in high demand and are in a strong position to negotiate. Station Hands with sheep experience in particular are in short supply.
In the current market employers who already have good staff would be well advised to ensure that salaries and conditions of their employees have not fallen behind the market.
Over the last decade, there has been a trend in the poultry and pig industries to sponsor agricultural workers and managers from other countries, notably South Africa and the Philippines. It will be interesting to see whether this trend will arise in the beef/sheep livestock and cropping sectors to alleviate the current and future shortfall in labour.
For more information on this topic refer to the 2019 CSIRO Publication: “The Future of Australia’s Agricultural Workforce”
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