New solutions for harvest shortages
Western Australian fresh food growers are breathing a huge sigh of relief after the Western Australian Minister for Agriculture Alannah MacTiernan confirmed that Tongan workers have been given the green light to fly into the state in mid-May.
vegetablesWA president Damir Kuzmicich says he’s extremely grateful that the minister went into bat for the WA horticulture industry after the state government announced they no longer had the capacity to accommodate seasonal workers in its hotel quarantine system.
“We are so grateful to the minister for her perseverance, working with the Department of Health, the Chief Health Officer and the Premier to secure the upcoming flight,” he says.
Minister MacTiernan told industry this week that she’s working with the Minister for Health, Roger Cook, to find another Perth city hotel that meets quarantine requirements.
Kuzmicich says the government has indicated that it views the risk profile of the people coming in from Pacific nations as less than those coming in from India or the US.
“We’ve been told we can be very optimistic about June and July flights and continuing charters throughout 2021,” he says. “We’re hoping for two more flights from Vanuatu in June and July, and this is exactly the kind of information we need to plan our crops.”
The approval of flights means WA growers will be able to plan for their labour needs for the rest of the year, giving them the certainty to be able to produce and harvest their crops.
New support to help boost harvest workforce
The federal government has announced a change to its measures aimed at getting workers into jobs on Australian farms. Following consultation with the agricultural industry, the government will now be delivering a new, more flexible approach to its Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program for short-term agricultural work.
Assistance to support people taking up short-term agricultural work will be delivered through a support called “AgMove”. The new approach will accommodate short, but intense, harvesting seasons and offer incentives for job-seekers to give ag-work a go.
Under AgMove, the government is introducing more flexible incentives which will see Australians eligible for up to $2000 in relocation assistance when they complete just 40 hours of agricultural work over a two-week period. This reduces the existing initial eligibility period for reimbursement from six weeks to just two. If they continue in agricultural work and complete 120 hours across a period of at least four weeks, they’ll hit the second eligibility point where they’ll be able to access reimbursement of up to $6000.
James Whiteside, CEO of AUSVEG, the peak industry body for the Australian vegetable industry, has welcomed the news, but warns growers will be left behind if they can’t get more workers on farms, saying more needs to be done to also bring in more workers from neighbouring countries to harvest and package fruits and vegetables.
“Industry is fully supportive of AgMove; however, we continue to struggle to get the scale of workers that industry needs through the domestic market,” Whiteside says.
“Growers need assurances that they can access a workforce. Unfortunately, history tells us that we cannot rely on domestic workers taking up the package in numbers.”
People looking for harvest work can find job opportunities at jobsearch.gov.au/harvest