No more seasonal workers for WA

15th April 2021 | Eativity editors

In a massive blow for the Western Australian horticulture industry, the state government has advised there is no longer the capacity to accommodate seasonal workers in its managed hotel quarantine system. This decision severely compromises the ability of WA growers to harvest crops, and will also have consequences for the state’s wine industry.

vegetablesWA President Damir Kuzmicich says he was shocked by the announcement and urges the WA government to examine how other states are managing the same challenge and find a workable solution that doesn’t sacrifice local food supply or people’s livelihoods.

“There are so many alternative options to utilising the existing hotel quarantine measures,” Kuzmicich says. “The government could add another quarantine hotel to increase capacity or look at regional accommodation options. Other states are moving forward, and WA is getting left behind at the expense of its growers.”

Strawberries are WA’s second largest horticulture export after carrots.

Last month, the South Australian government announced that more than 1000 seasonal workers will be able to safely arrive in the state over the coming months, with a speciality regional quarantine facility to be set up in the Riverland. The facility will cater specifically for workers arriving under the Commonwealth Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme, with new arrivals expected every 14 days over the next three months.

Meanwhile, the NSW government announced last week that it would be subsidising half the quarantine costs for overseas agricultural workers, easing the financial burden on growers.

Other states have implemented plans to boost the seasonal labour workforce.

vegetablesWA Labour Scheme Facilitator Melissa Denning says it’s hard to believe that other states understand the urgent need for these workers and are actively rolling out opportunities to ensure food production is not impeded, yet WA is scaling back.

“We have welcomed four plane-loads of Pacific workers since December, and the process has been seamless, with zero cases of COVID-19,” she says.

In January, Victoria and Tasmania struck a deal which saw workers from the Pacific Islands allowed into Victoria under special quarantine arrangements. Tasmania quarantines the workers for two weeks before they’re allowed onto Victorian farms. Denning says that Western Australia’s government should be looking to make similar arrangements with another state to keep the steady flow of workers into WA.

WA’s main citrus season runs from May to December.

Approval of hotel quarantine for 140 Vanuatu workers, scheduled for arrival into Perth on May 7, has been denied. The deadline for the next scheduled flight is April 19; this would see 151 workers from Tonga entering WA to assist with vineyard pruning in Margaret River.

“A decision is needed by April 19 for this flight to proceed,” Denning says. “It takes at least five weeks for Pacific countries to mobilise workers. These flights take time to coordinate at both ends to ensure the safety of the WA community and the workers.”

Kuzmicich says the message coming from the WA government for the past 12 months has been to plan for anticipated labour shortages

“The Seasonal Worker Program can alleviate some of these shortages,” he says. “We ask the state government for a commitment to ensure flights and quarantine arrangements can continue for at least the remainder of 2021.”