The Department of Employment is the lead agency for the Seasonal Worker Programme, receiving significant support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Australian Tax Office, Austrade and the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The program contributes to the economic development of nine Pacific island countries and Timor-Leste by providing access to work opportunities in the Australian agriculture sector and, in selected locations, the accommodation and tourism sectors. It also offers Australian approved employers access to a reliable, returning workforce.
New employers are vetted before being admitted to the program. This includes conducting checks on compliance with Australian workplace relations and immigration legislation. Before approved employers can employ seasonal workers under the program, they must first undertake local labour market testing to confirm there are no Australians available to do the work. In 2016–17, 6,166 visa subclass 403 were issued to seasonal workers by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and 82 employers were approved under the program, up from 69 in 2015–16. Over 17,000 seasonal workers have now participated since the commencement of the program in July 2012. In 2016–17, the Department worked with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to develop new promotional material for the program. This included a series of promotional videos and translated pre-departure information for all participating countries.
The Department is continuing to work to ensure that strong protections and supports are in place for seasonal workers. It conducted 39 regional monitoring site visits across Australia during 2016–17, up from 17 visits in 2015–16, and it continues to receive strong positive feedback about the benefits of the program from employers and seasonal workers.
The Department coordinated a multi-agency response to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s inquiry into the Seasonal Worker Programme. The Australian Government tabled its response to the Joint Standing Committee’s report, Seasonal change, on 16 February 2017.
In addition, the Department contributed to several research initiatives, including an Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences study that compared farm productivity and profitability when hiring working holiday makers and when hiring seasonal workers. This is a follow-up to a study undertaken by the Bureau in 2013. It is expected the results of this research will be released in 2017–18.
The work visa and migration programs
The Department advises the Government on employment in relation to migration policy and programs and free trade agreements—including temporary entry commitments, labour market analysis and advice, workplace laws and government procurement—and other international agreements and forums.
In 2016–17, the Department provided labour market research and analysis to assist the Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration in its review of the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List. It also developed a new methodology to apply labour market advice to the skilled migration occupation list to better align employer-sponsored visas with labour market needs.
The Department worked with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on labour mobility options to support foreign policy—including free trade agreements and development assistance objectives.