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What do growers want from SWP?

Industry Advocacy

Until Sunday, 18 July, the Australian Government is seeking feedback on ways to improve Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) to maximise benefits for employers, workers and participating countries. The government wants to streamline the SWP to mobilise overseas workers more effectively and improve accessibility to Australia. 

The SWP has been highly successful since its introduction in 2013, with year-on-year growth of 40% and more than 12,000 visas issued just prior to the pandemic. 

The recently released National Agricultural Workforce Strategy has recognised the important role of migrant and overseas workers in filling workforce gaps.  

To have your say on concerns or improvements with the SWP, please contact Jeremy Griffith, Government Relations at APAL, at jgriffith@apal.org.au or 0467 817 142. 

Read the full Pacific Labour Mobility discussion paper here. 

The grower perspective: Brent Reeve, Jefthomson

Brent Reeve is the General Manager at Geoffrey Thompson Orchards (a.k.a. Jeftomson), and has been a SWP registered employer for 18 months. His first group of workers arrived just before the pandemic, and they have been a valuable labour resource – and future investment. 

“It’s a great program,” Brent said. “You invest in consistent workers that want to do a good job. It’s benefitting their families and villages back home, which gives them the drive to do well so they can return here.  

“I originally had 20 people come over, and throughout pandemic 9 of those left after 12 months while 11 stayed on. Out of those original 20, 19 workers want to return next season. Our cap has also been lifted to 80 workers this year.” 

In terms of improvements to SWP, Brent believes growers would benefit massively from a streamlined system with more simplified application and approval processes, so that more employers can jump on board. 

“We started the paperwork in January 2019, and our first workers arrived in January 2020,” Brent said. “It’s a long and difficult process, and new quarantine hoops to jump through this time around means it will be costly as well. At the moment, we have to fly the workers into Tasmania for two weeks of quarantine before they can come to work in Victoria – even if they’re coming from countries that are Covid-free. A solution could be travel bubbles for the SWP countries, like what we have with NZ, or allowing on-farm quarantining so that they can start working here during that two-week period.”  

Brent believes the SWP will become even more important for meeting future harvest labour challenges, so improving the program should be a high priority for industry and government.  

“I think a lot of people would love to do it, but the process is very daunting,” Brent said. “It’s probably the new normal. The new Ag Visa will be a big help, but we need to be able to get people into the country.” 

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