Organisations like the Tourism & Transport Forum Australia (TTF) are calling on the Federal Government to expand the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa extensions that are about to apply in northern Australia to the rest of the country.
From tomorrow (21 November), visa holders who take on work in northern Australia will be able to apply to work for a single employer for up to 12 months, compared to the usual six months.
TTF CEO Margy Osmond said it made common sense to reform to working holiday visas. “It shouldn’t stop at some arbitrary invisible line in northern Australia – if it’s good enough to implement in the Top End its good enough to be rolled out across the entire country,” she said.
She believed that six months wasn’t long enough with one employer when staff training could take up to three months, dismissing the idea of three months training for three months as “just ludicrous”.
At TNT’s recent Adventure and Backpacker industry Conference (ABiC) in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, a leading opposition politician also raised the subject.
Terri Butler, who is the federal Labor Member for Griffith, Queensland and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition, said Working Holiday Makers were mobile, and willing to work in low-skilled and low-paid jobs unconnected to their longer term career aspirations or home employment. This made them an important labour source in agriculture and mining.
Referring to backpackers as “an economic powerhouse”, she said Labor would consider expanding visa extensions beyond Northern Australia.
“There’s a particular urgency due to the shortage of 56,000 tourism and hospitality workers this year alone, and it’s only set to worsen,” she added.
On a similar theme, Osmond pointed out that the worker shortage was expected to increase to 123,000 workers by 2020 and that visa reform is needed to help plug the shortfall.
Last year the Federal Government granted 226,812 visas.
Turning to the thorny issue of recent tax changes affecting backpackers, Osmond said visa enhancements would “go some way in offsetting the kick in the guts the industry was given in the last Federal budget with the removal of the tax-free threshold for these workers.”