AN overseas employment agreement is expected to be finalised in weeks to meet the chronic south-west shortage of workers in the dairy and meat industries.
Federal Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs David Coleman sent representatives from the Department of Home Affairs to Warrnambool last week to accelerate the process of negotiating a Designated Area Migration Agreement.
A spokesman said the department was working through the agreement and there was an expectation the agreement will be finalised “as soon as practically possible".
"The Government’s focus is on improving the current system to better match the immigration program to needs in specific locations. In particular, the Government is looking closely at ways of filling employment gaps in regional areas," the spokesman said.
"Fundamental to a DAMA being approved is that all eligible positions must undergo labour market testing.
"Employers can only use overseas workers where it has been demonstrated that the skills gaps and shortages cannot be filled by Australian worker.”
Informed sources have revealed it is expected that the DAMA plan will be in place in coming weeks.
Federal Minister for Cities and Population Alan Tudge said this week some regional areas were crying out for workers, with Warrnambool highlighted as one of those regions.
The DAMA would allow employers to hire skilled overseas workers when they can’t fill positions locally.
Warrnambool City Council has previously said there are up to 1000 job vacancies in the region in the dairy, meat, transport, mechanics, hospitality and health industries.
WCC economic growth director Andrew Paton said in May that while most of the vacancies were for blue collar workers, there was also desperate need for young professionals to take up opportunities.
Member for South West Coast Roma Britnell said this week the plan was to put a DAMA in place focussing on dairy and meat workers, hopefully with the scope to expand.
"The discussion about the DAMA came out of a meeting we had with Minister Tudge in July when we took people down to Melbourne."
Mrs Britnell said everywhere she went across the south-west employers talked to her about the lack of skilled workers.
"Minister Tudge is acutely aware of the particular needs of the dairy and meat industries," she said.
"He suggested we apply for a DAMA because of our 2.7 per cent unemployment rate and as businesses are struggling from Portland to Warrnambool and inbetween to get skilled staff.
"There's shortages, not just in the dairy and meat industries, but also for engineers, welders, mechanics and car sales people and because of changes to 457 visas there's now no pathway to permanent residency."
Mrs Britnell said she had helped south-west councils come together and work as a region with WCC taking the lead.
"Warrnambool City Council is the lead agency in collecting data from the Warrnambool, Glenelg, Southern Grampians, Moyne and Corangamite areas," she said.
"I can't get over the cry-out for skilled staff."
Mrs Britnell said WCC was in the process of finalising a business case.
She said settlement services were being engage to make sure any workers brought to the area were supported, could stay and wanted to stay.
The Liberal MP said she had also talked to state agriculture and regional development minister Jaala Pulford about getting more settlement service in the region and had also been liaising with Federal Member for Wannon Dan Tehan.
Mrs Britnell said only two other regions had gained DAMAs and the current process had been ongoing since July.