Australia’s key food industry bodies have calculated the food supply chain is currently short at least 172,000 workers from paddock to plate.
This massive labour shortage will have significant long-term impacts on price and the availability of food for the consumer unless solutions are found quickly, the group said.
According to the peak bodies, which have recently collaborated to form the Food Supply Chain Alliance, this is one of the few ‘cost of living’ pressures the Government can influence.
The Alliance believes the food sector, given it provides an essential service to the community, must be a priority at the Federal Government’s upcoming Jobs and Skills Summit, which must deliver viable solutions to be considered a success.
The ‘Food Supply Chain Alliance’ represents 160,000 businesses with a revenue of more than $200 billion. It includes the National Farmers Federation, the Australian Meat Industry Council, Seafood Industry Australia, Independent Food Distributors Australia, AUSVEG, Master Grocers Australia, Restaurant and Catering Industry Association and the Australian Association of Convenience Stores.
In a joint statement, the Alliance said there were steps the government can take now to relieve the pressure on food industries and consumers.
The food supply chain urgently requires a suite of tools, including suitable visa pathways to welcome overseas workers, as well as measures to facilitate people in the country to take up the work (ie lifting restrictions on work rights for temporary migrants and seniors, and support to enable relocation to do the work).
Food Supply Chain Strategy
The Alliance believes the government must, as a matter of urgency, develop a National Food Supply Chain Strategy to reduce the impact of both natural disasters and future global challenges.
National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said the farm sector’s labour crisis was not only hurting farmers, but also the economy, and it was hitting consumers in the hip pocket.
“Farmers are making the difficult choice not to plant some crops, because they can’t guarantee they’ll have workers for harvest. If crops don’t get planted, less food gets grown, and people pay more. It’s a simple equation. We need appropriate visa solutions to attract workers and ensure they’re treated fairly,” he said.
Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said the post-farmgate meat supply chain was already under-resourced to process the number of livestock forecast to be produced in Australia in 2022.
“Forecasts for 2023-2025 can be anything between a 15pc and 35pc increase in livestock numbers. This will obviously be catastrophic for Australian farmers if the volume of livestock is far greater than the meat processing industry can process, and the wider supply chain has the ability to manage,” he said.
See this earlier report in the labour challenges being faced by meat processors.
CEO of Independent Food Distributors Australia, Richard Forbes said the ability to transport food was becoming harder by the day due the significant shortages of truck drivers across the country.
“Coupled with that is an ongoing lack of skilled and unskilled workers in food warehouses to help pack and store food products and drive forklifts to unload trucks from suppliers and load them for food retail outlets. Recruiting and maintaining staff is almost impossible,” je said
Master Grocers Australia chief executive Jos De Bruin said independent food and grocery supermarkets had never before experienced worker shortages like those seen in the past 12 months.
“The situation is diabolical as members struggle with increased costs of doing business coupled with insufficient staff to help run their stores.
“Our industry sector has traditionally relied upon local workers in the first instance and then new migrant workers, temporary visa holders and backpackers to work in their stores. MGA strongly encourages the Government to allow older workers currently not wishing to risk their pension payments, to work in our members stores as well as simplifying Temporary Visa conditions to allow temporary visa holders to work longer hours, extend their visa and apply for permanent residency.”
CEO of the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association, Belinda Clark said the hospitality industry was a $57 billion market in Australia.
“Restaurants, cafés and caterers are currently looking at a shortfall of 100,000 jobs across the country. The heartbreak of having to shut their doors due to COVID, losing their staff or even having to close the business for good has taken its toll on everyone.
“And we’re still not out of the woods. Input costs have risen considerably in all areas, this perfect storm will mean that prices will have to rise just for businesses to make ends meet and customers will start to see their favourite items on the menu start to disappear. Times have never been tougher and the public and industry need to come together to get through this. We desperately need a solution.”