UK Trade Deal Threatens to Exacerbate Australia’s Farm Worker Shortage


At the beginning of the year, the National Farmers Federation announced an unprecedented labour crisis across Australia’s food supply chain. They stated, “Australia’s top peak food industry bodies have calculated the food supply chain is short at least 172,000 workers from paddock to plate. This massive labour shortage will have significant long-term impacts on price and the availability of food for the consumer unless solutions are found quickly.”

This comes after last year’s UK-Australia trade agreement which will see UK backpackers not having to work for three months in regional areas to extend their one-year working visa. Instead, they will now be able to work and stay for three years wherever they choose.

Given the choice of working by the beach or out in the bush, many backpackers would choose to stay close to the coast. Unfortunately, this means an annual loss of about 10,000 backpackers from the regional farming workforce.

Last year, National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson said, “We applaud Trade Minister Dan Tehan and our negotiating team on an improved set of market access outcomes. The UK deal will create new opportunities for Australian farmers as we work towards growing industry output to $100 billion by 2030.” But she also warned that “given the acute labour shortfalls already wreaking havoc across (the) industry, any good work achieved by the in-principle agreement on trade will be undone if the Government continues to delay the implementation of a dedicated Ag Visa. Taking away a source of farm labour now could be a devastating blow for Australian farmers in an environment of existing shortage. The Ag Visa must not only make up for the shortfall in backpacker farm labour, but address the growing shortage of farm workers. The NFF will need to see more detail on how an Ag Visa and the flagged agribusiness visa will work, and when, because we have heard this one before.”

Although more people are travelling since the borders opened and the new agreement won’t start until 2024, Tyson Cattle from industry group AusVeg said, “we’re certainly not expecting a flurry of backpackers to take us back to the previous heights of having 150,000 backpackers in the country at any one time any time soon. If a backpacker is coming out and looking to start their holiday and it is a work and holiday visa, the reality is they’re likely to try and enjoy their time at the beach, or at the pub, or travelling up along the coast as opposed to getting stuck into their 88 days from the get-go.”

In a media release, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan announced a new era of free trade with the UK stating there are benefits for Australians within this trade agreement. “(Australian) young people will have more time to travel to the UK for a working holiday and will be able to stay longer, with eligibility to participate in working holiday opportunities raised from 30 to 35 years of age, and stays allowed for up to three years in each country.” Plus, “(Australian) farmers will have improved access to more than 65 million UK consumers who value safe, sustainably produced foods and beverages with the strong provenance Australia offers.”

The new three-year working visa for UK residents under the age of 35 is, of course, welcome news for backpackers and other businesses around the country struggling to employ enough workers.



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