A severe backpacker shortage caused by lack of affordable housing could cripple growers across the Lower South West, a Manjimup business leader has warned. Manjimup Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Bevan Eates says farmers are facing “trying times” as the town is still yet to see its usual influx of overseas workers, which he believes are struggling to find accommodation or taking up higher paying jobs in other industries. Mr Eates said the small number of backpackers in town was concerning, especially for smaller growers. “Last season there just wasn’t the workers around to fill the amount of jobs available,” he said. “The reason why was that most backpackers had qualified for their third year visa and due to the shortage of workers in all industries were taking up job opportunities in other sectors. “I know of quite a few backpackers that ended up leaving to pursue jobs on the mines.” The Federal Government has rolled out the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme — a program to address unskilled, low-skilled and semi-skilled labour shortages across rural and regional Australia — but Mr Eates said it favoured bigger companies and was difficult for smaller growers who could not offer the same hours and pay. “The larger growers have signed up to the Pacific Islander scheme,” he said. “Many of these growers have either bought or leased houses for accommodation for their workers. “There is currently a shortage of workers on the Ag Visas and government is encouraging farmers to use the Pacific Islander scheme, which is difficult if you can’t provide enough hours in the week or enough weeks of employment to meet the criteria of the Pacific Islander scheme. “Add to this the accommodation shortage issues and it appears we are heading for some trying times.” The popular working hostel in west Manjimup, Normalee Manor— which has been attracting workers for farmers in the region since 2006 but has in recent years been slowing down — is now under new management and aims to be part of the accomodation shortage solution. Manager Khalid es Sadiq said he planned to have the hostel back up to full capacity by December but was relying heavily on growers to present work opportunties for his residents. “Most of the farmers don’t know that we’ve open again,” he said. “I’m slowly working on that. “We’re not full at the moment but people are slowly coming in, we’ve got quite a bit of interest but unfortunately we are having to turn down people because there are no work opportunities currently available.” Mr Sadiq said he planned to build a database of growers to help in drawing in workers looking to complete their 88 days in a rural area which is required for individuals to secure a second year on their work visa. “Almost 20 people have called me since I re-opened last week but I can’t promise them a job straight away,” he said. “Many people want to come and work the next day but I need to be in touch with the farmers to facilitate this.” Mr Sadiq said he hoped to have all 60 rooms filled over the summer period but it was now about building the relationship with the farmers to ensure he could attract the workers in. He said in the long term his aims were to work out what works and what doesn’t, and to look for better processes for booking workers into the hostel and securing work opportunities for them. Mr Sadiq said he encouraged growers to contact him on 0455 909 002 for any inquiries.