NT survey confirms backpacker concerns

Gavin Scurr, from Pinata Farms, who's company grows mangoes and pineapples in Darwin, Katherine and Mataranka, is just one grower in the Territory who is expanding operations.
Gavin Scurr, from Pinata Farms, who's company grows mangoes and pineapples in Darwin, Katherine and Mataranka, is just one grower in the Territory who is expanding operations. Contributed

MORE than 60% of farm owners and operators in the Northern Territory believe they will be affected adversely by the introduction of the backpacker tax.

The findings come from a comprehensive NT Farmers’ Workforce Issues Survey which was released this week.

The survey also found that 40% of those surveyed did not believe they would be able to find an alternative source of labour other than backpackers.

It also found that almost a third of Territory farmers expected to grow their operations in the coming year, which would require more staff.

NT Farmers CEO Shenal Basnayake said the findings highlighted the important role of backpackers and other temporary seasonal workers to the future of plant industries in the Northern Territory.

“NT Farmers sought several months ago to have the survey done to gather up the facts and evidence required to support its position on the backpacker tax, the need to define a work week within the sector and other issues currently facing the sector,” Mr Basnayake said.

“The results are timely considering the current Federal review into the backpacker tax and hopefully the results of this survey, in combination with the formal response being provided by the Northern Territory Government will be enough to convince the Federal Government to backtrack on its position.”

Mr Basnayake said the survey was completed with the support of Migration NT at the Northern Territory Department of Business, and the results highlighted the workforce issues faced by farmers, as well as their aversion to the backpacker tax and other current challenges to the sectors workforce.

In a summary statement provided by the Migration NT team to NT Farmers, it said “farmers feel the combination of increasing demand for workers, the ongoing difficulty farm operations face in filling positions, the potential negative effects of any change to the taxation arrangements for backpackers, and the lack of other labour alternatives will impact the growth and productivity and viability of the NT farm industry in the coming year”.

Key points from the survey for the financial year 2014–15 were:

NT farmers employed an average of 35 persons per farm business.

The majority of these employees were temporary or casual employees and are not Australian citizens or permanent residents.

70% of employees in management and permanent positions are Australians or permanent residents.

One in five full-time employees in management and permanent positions are overseas workers on an employer sponsored visa.

Jobs growth in the farm sector is expected, with 28% of farmers indicating they would have new full-time positions available within 12 months. In the mango sector this increased to 37%.

The mango sector expecting an increased need of an average of four employees per farm and the melon sector an average of 14 additional employees per farm.

Jobs are primarily casual farmhand/fruit/vegetable pickers and fruit packing positions usually filled by overseas workers (ie backpackers and employer-sponsored workers). Farmers also indicated these positions had been the most difficult to fill during the past year and they had concerns about whether they would be able to be filled if the backpacker tax was introduced.

62% of farmers believe the backpacker tax will negatively affect the number of workers available to them.

50% expect the number of working holiday makers in their business to reduce by 20–80%.

40% indicated they would be unable to access workers from any other source to overcome the anticipated decrease in backpacker labour.

Mr Basnayake thanked the Migration NT team and the Department of Business for having the foresight to work with NT Farmers on the survey.

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