The availability of skilled staff is the biggest issue facing Esperance farmers, according to the South East Premium Wheat Growers Association.

With the issue unlikely to garner a mention in an upcoming review of workplace relations, SEPWA president David Cox said the industry needed to take action to ensure a steady supply of skilled labour.

Mr Cox said the biggest labour issue facing farmers in the Esperance region was not the cost of hiring workers, but finding them.

“Manually intensive jobs are probably put to the wayside not so much by the cost of labour but the availability, ” he said.

Mr Cox said the shortage of labour had been driven by fewer young people looking for a career in agriculture and the increased need for technically skilled and qualified staff.

While Esperance growers were getting by, Mr Cox said this practice could only go so far.

“The majority of grain growers would use limited-skilled staff — for instance backpackers, travellers or itinerants to fill the gap, ” he said.

“But there are still those high-skilled positions within our farming businesses that need to be filled by skilled, intelligent people.”

To address the labour shortage, Mr Cox said the industry needed to continue to highlight the benefits working in agriculture could bring.

“We need to continue to promote that agriculture is a very good industry to be involved in, ” he said.

“There are some really good things happening in agriculture.

“We can offer a hell of a lot more than the cab of a dump truck and being away from your family for two to three weeks at a time.”

The Australian Productivity Commission released five papers last month setting the agenda for a workplace relations review, which is set to be finished in November.

Though the review will not address labour shortage issues for Esperance’s agricultural sector, Mr Cox welcomed a consideration of changes to the minimum wage and penalty rates.

“Any review on this is probably a good thing, ” he said.

“The mining boom put a bit of upward pressure on our wages.”


© The West Australian

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