Overseas employee options

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Some dairy farmers who have had difficulty finding and retaining staff have hired people from overseas with success.

 Dairy Australia's manger of The People in Dairy program, Dr Pauline Brightling, said employing people from overseas involved special considerations particularly in terms of training, cultural awareness and ensuring workers have a valid Australian visa with work rights.

"Regardless of their background, every new team member needs to understand the farm's procedures and practices. Communication may be a little more challenging if English is not their native language. Consider placing more emphasis on demonstration and providing visual reminders such as signs," Dr Brightling said."It is also important to be aware of different cultural backgrounds, and to help your new team member(s) become part of the local community.

 "The early days can be quite a learning curve for both employer and employee - understanding each other's culture. But making an effort will make the adjustment phase much easier."

It is also essential to check working rights.

"Some visas prevent or restrict the right of a person to work in Australia. And it is the employer's responsibility to check that every worker from overseas has a valid Australian visa with work rights," Dr Brightling said.

The Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) service is a safe, easy and quick way to check the work entitlements of new workers from overseas. VEVO is a free, internet-based system that allows you to check the work entitlements of a visa holder online.

"The service gives you current visa information and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Dr Brightling said.

There are a number of visa options for lawfully operating Australian employers to sponsor and employ skilled workers who have recognised qualifications and skills or experience in particular occupations required in Australia.

These include the 457 - Business (Long Stay) visa, the Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) and the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS).


Article 2: United nations of Cooriemungle

Life has changed dramatically for Chris and Julie Vogels and Chris' parents Frank and Dorothy Vogels since they began employing staff from overseas.

The Vogels milk 1500 cows year round at Cooriemungle in South West Victoria and have a work force of nine staff which include five Uzbeks, three Filipinos and one Australian.

Mr Vogels said their first experience with employing staff from overseas began four years ago and has been a rapid learning curve and rewarding experience.

"When I came back on the family farm in 1985 we were milking around 180 cows and it was all very straightforward," Mr Vogels said.

"But over time we expanded the property and herd. Once we reached 1000 cows we became increasingly dependent on labour. As the herd got bigger, milking took longer, the work became boring and it became harder and harder to find and retain staff.

"Our location was an issue as well - it was a struggle to get quality people and then get them to stay."

By 2001 the Vogels were milking 1500 cows over two farms and staff management was becoming a consuming issue.

"I chose a career in the dairy industry because I liked dealing with cows, but as we got bigger I found I was spending 90 per cent of my time dealing with staff issues for all the wrong reasons and I hated it," he said.

"In 2005, 2006 and 2007 we found we were struggling to get the cows milked and were so desperate we would take anyone we could get, which was far from ideal.

"I couldn't get away from the farm for an hour because I was always worried. It was very hard on the family. We've got five kids and Julie was always driving them around for sport - I couldn't help her and never got to see what they were doing because I wasn't confident to leave the farm.

"I began questioning why we were staying in the dairy industry - it was hard and we

weren't enjoying it at all."

But the turning point for the Vogels came when they were told about the opportunity to employ an overseas student working in Australia through the International Agricultural Exchange Association (IAEA).

The IAEA offers young travellers between 18 and 30 years an opportunity to work on farms in other countries, and organises their travel, work permits and farm placements 

Mrs Vogels said they thought it sounded great and expected to get a person from Denmark or Germany.

"But then we were offered an agricultural student from Uzbekistan who had been working on a cropping property in Queensland for six months and wanted to work in the dairy industry for the remaining six months of his visa," she said.

"We'd never heard of Uzbekistan and had no idea where it was, but we had nothing to lose so said we'd take him."

Mr Vogels said the decision was the beginning of a new direction in sourcing staff.

"I was overwhelmed with his willingness to work and the mutual respect we had for each other right from the beginning," he said.

"He was reliable and he had a great attitude but after six months he had to go back to Uzbekistan."

The Vogels were so impressed they took on another two Uzbek students on 12 months working visas through the IAEA. They arrived with limited English but learnt quickly and displayed the same attitude to work.

The students were then joined by another two Uzbeks on 12 months visas through the IAEA, as well as another Uzbek who had been working on a farm in Gippsland, but who felt culturally isolated.

"We soon became good friends with all of them and have learnt a lot in the process," he said.

"There have been major cultural differences. All the Uzbeks we've employed have been Muslim - we'd never had much to do with anyone who was Muslim before so we've learnt a lot about their culture and religion.

"They live on farm and we've given them a car so they have taken the opportunity to travel. They have all been very keen on sport and have played soccer and volleyball locally which has given them the opportunity to meet people off the farm."

Cultural differences also extend to agriculture according to Mr Vogels, with all five Uzbeks coming from farms where cows are still milked by hand; there is limited, if any, use of machinery and no concept of occupational health and safety.

"We invested an enormous amount of time in training for the first six months of their stay with us and after that we didn't want them to go," he said.

"The Uzbeks wanted to stay as well so we've supported their applications for permanent residence in Australia. Four have been successful and one is currently applying. 

The Vogels have also taken on three Filipino staff who are in Australia on 457 visas which allow them to work for four years. All three have also been granted permanent residency.

The Filipinos had previously worked on a 15,000 cow dairy in Saudi Arabia and were employed by the Vogels through an employment agent based in Western Australia who specialises in sourcing overseas staff for the mining industry. Using an agent meant the Vogels did not have to deal with the complex paperwork and constant changes to immigration law.

Working in such a big dairy operation meant the Filipinos had expertise in specific aspects of farm management, such as inseminating and herd health, but lacked general farm experience and have required on the job training.

The Vogels admit employing staff from overseas is not for everyone and stress the need to be patient and to take time to learn about the culture and values of the people being employed.

They are quick to defend their staff from claims that they ‘are taking Australian jobs' or undercutting Australian wages.

"We struggled for years to get locals to work on the farm and found it extremely difficult," he said.

"We also pay our staff really well - in the range of $60,000 to $83,000 a year per person - because we are happy with their performance. Money isn't the issue, getting the jobs done is.

"The people we've employed from overseas are normal, intelligent people, who want work and have been prepared to travel half way around the world for the opportunity. 

"Our overseas staff have been fantastic and have changed my life. I love farming again and can take time off to play sport and spend time with the family. I'm happy to go to work because there is a great work environment," he said.


Article 3: Backpackers offer short-term labour

Backpackers in Australia can be a source of short-term, seasonal labour for dairy farmers but Australian employers need to make sure backpackers they employ have the appropriate visa. It is the employer's responsibility to ensure the paperwork is in order and to pay award wages.

Dairy Australia manager for The People in Dairy project, Pauline Brightling, said employers are responsible for checking every worker from overseas has a valid Australian visa with work rights.

"The working holiday maker program is a cultural exchange program which allows visa holders to supplement their holiday funds through short-term work," Dr Brightling said.

"Working holiday maker visa holders can work full-time during their 12-month stay in Australia but are limited to a maximum of six months' work with any one employer."

Working holiday visa holders who performed ‘specified work', in an eligible regional

Australian area for a minimum of three months (88 days) while on their first working holiday (subclass 417) visa may be eligible for a second working holiday visa. ‘Specified work' can include working on a dairy farm.

Holders of a second working holiday visa may return to work for a further six months for an employer with whom they worked on their first working holiday visa.

"This means if you employed a working holiday visa holder for six months on their first working holiday visa and they successfully obtained a second working holiday visa, they would be able to return to your employ for another six months," Dr Brightling said.