Bonus payments offered for harvest help

19th February 2021 | Eativity editors

The Victorian Government has offered more support for the state’s horticultural industry, providing an additional $19.3 million to encourage locals to take up farm work, and to cover the majority of the quarantine costs for Pacific Islander workers. Jobseekers who take up seasonal work will be eligible for bonuses of almost $2500, with the government providing over $10 million to urge jobseekers to give the work a go and boost local workforces.

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The Seasonal Harvest Sign-on Bonus will be provided in two payments: $810 paid after two weeks of work and a further $1620 paid after an additional six weeks of work. To be eligible, workers need to complete at least 10 days’ work within a one-month period to receive the first bonus and at least another 30 days within a three-month period for the next payment.

“It’s a big day’s work, but the reward can be just as big – the sign-on bonus means jobseekers can take home almost $2500 on top of their wage,” says Victorian Minister for Agriculture Mary-Anne Thomas.

To maximise take-up of the sign-on bonus, industry groups that support growers in priority harvest regions will receive funding for additional staff and resources through a new $1 million Seasonal Workforce Industry Support grant program. This funding aims to bolster the capacity of these groups to provide dedicated seasonal workforce support to their members and to make sure businesses are equipped to attract the workers they need.

The Queensland fruit fly, which can infect many fruits, has already been detected in Victoria.

Too little too late?

While many local growers have welcomed the news, for some the possibility of extra hands may have come too late, with harvests such as pears and stone fruit already coming to an end. Many crops across the state have been lost while growers wait for Pacific Islander workers destined for the area to come out of quarantine.

Unpicked crops being left to rot has also increased the risk of Queensland fruit flies in the region – a risk already compounded by La Nina’s wetter weather, and a situation that horticultural entomologist and fruit fly expert Andrew Jessup has called a “perfect storm”. Cobram and District Fruit Growers Association President Tony Siciliano says he fears the combination of factors could lead to a Queensland fruit fly “tsunami”, which will only add another heavy blow to an already beleaguered industry.

Pacific Workers are being brought in to help with harvests, but the quarantine process is expensive.

Growers to share quarantine costs

While the Victorian Government will cover most of the cost associated with quarantining up to 1500 Pacific Islander workers under a deal struck with Tasmania, growers will be expected to cough up $2000 of the $7200 cost of isolating and quarantining each worker.

“We’ve said from the start that while Pacific Islander workers will be important to the harvest’s success, it’s not a silver bullet,” Thomas says. “We’re doing all that we can to help our farmers get their produce to market, but we need a national approach.”

For details about how to apply for the sign-on bonus, visit agriculture.vic.gov.au/bigharvest