"In short; the proposed ASEAN Agricultural Visa solution is very unlikely to help our growers this 2021 to 2022 season, and the requirements haven't been decided."
What is the ASEAN Visa?
The ASEAN Visa is a new seasonal agricultural workforce visa for citizens of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) countries.
The visa will allow citizens of ASEAN countries to work in Australia for up to nine months per year, returning home each year for at least three months, and for a period of up to three years.
The ASEAN countries (or states in some cases) are; Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Considering hourly rates start from as little as $2.53 (Myanmar) together with a combined population of 660 million, the ASEAN Visa could not only help our desperate Australian growers, but could also change the lives of many families across these ASEAN countries.
Below we can see the population and average hourly rate for the participating ASEAN countries.
However, if we exclude countries unlikely to participate (due to high wages), we can see the participation potential is still massive at 550 million people and average wage of $5.19.
Compare this to the current Seasonal Worker Program which has a population pool of just 12.36 million and an average hourly wage which is not significantly different of $4.05
You can see the potential of the ASEAN Visa is huge with a potential pool of workers 50 times greater than the Seasonal Worker Program. However, there is no use in creating a larger pool of workers if we can’t access them in time, and certainly it does not help if the restrictions remain onerous like with Seasonal Worker Program. That would really just be opening the tap and forcing the water through a pin hole.
So, what is the timing and requirements of the ASEAN Visa?
We have met with multiple politicians recently to seek clarification regarding the timing and requirements of the proposed ASEAN Visa.
"The short summary is; this proposed solution is very unlikely to help our growers this 2021 to 2022 season, and the requirements haven't been decided."
Essentially, the announcement has been made, but the mechanisms which would allow the workers to enter the country will take some time to implement and are highly unlikely to be in place this season. There is also concern about the virulence of the COVID-19 Delta strains, and the risk of letting numerous foreign workers into the country which could also put some brakes on the program.
While meeting, we’ve provided strong feedback that foreign workers are a vital cog in the agricultural wheel, and 'getting people off the dole' is not a short-term solution that will work. We also provided strong feedback that the ASEAN Visa, when it is in place, should not come with the restrictions of the Seasonal Worker Program, which is onerous even for very large growers, and almost completely unusable to small and medium growers.
What do we do about it?
We have been spending time during the ‘quiet season’ strictly screening candidates so we can build an even stronger workforce in readiness for the upcoming peak season. We are also strategically positioning ourselves to have access to every program and government assistance possible to ensure we're in the best position to support our local growers this year and next.
We will also continue pushing to cross train our employees so they can slot into any role on any farm when the need arises, so we can offer increased flexibility; and continue to shape a strong working culture, built on strong work ethic and respect from all parties.
Planning ahead is key, along with flexibility in cross training workers and supporting a positive culture built on mutual respect will prove to be beyond valuable during these expected challenges.
If you’re keen to catch up so we can work on an effective strategy so you’re not left short in the coming season, now is the time to do that – so please reach out so we can get it done together.