HANOI, June 17 — Australia is looking to recruit Southeast Asian farmworkers as the pandemic and a new free-trade deal with the UK exacerbates labour shortages in the nation’s AUD66 billion (US$51 billion or RM210.9 billion)-a-year agriculture industry, reported VNA.
According to Bloomberg, the government aims to offer three-year working visas by the end of the year to citizens from the 10 Asean countries, Australia’s Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told reporters in Canberra on June 16.
With Australians reluctant to pick up what is often considered to be strenuous manual labour, reliance on foreigners has long been a crux to an industry that has seen a shrinking and ageing local workforce.
The Australian government has attempted to attract backpackers with the offer of a visa extension on the completion of a longer farm stint. Still, their number has plunged from 160,000 pre-pandemic to less than 40,000 as the nation’s borders were closed to almost all non-residents, leaving some goods not sown or left to rot unpicked.
Labour shortages were flagged by the government as a continuing “vulnerability” for the industry as the pandemic extends through 2021, with Australia unlikely to loosen its strict border controls until well into next year.
With global food price inflation already tracking higher as farm supplies tighten, any hiccup in the supply chain could hit household budgets hard. The Bloomberg Agriculture Spot Index, which tracks key farm products, surged last month to reach the highest level since 2012.