NT seasonal worker trial welcomed
Our mangoes are saved! AUSVEG and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) have welcomed the announcement from Federal and Northern Territory Governments that they’ll be conducting a trial that will see workers under the Seasonal Worker Programme travel to Northern Territory farms to undertake vital farm work.
The trial will see up to 170 workers from Vanuatu come to Australia to support the mango harvest in the Northern Territory, which will provide critical workers to help fill labour shortages in seasonal harvest work in the region and test the entry and management of foreign workers in a controlled way. Each worker will travel to the Northern Territory and be required to undertake a 14-day quarantine period before commencing work.
AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside says the announcement was necessary to give the territory’s farmers confidence that they’ll be able to harvest their crops and supply high quality fresh produce to Australian and international consumers, particularly in the lead up to the critically-important mango harvest season.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables are a vital component to the health and wellbeing of every Australian and need to be picked and sent to market when they are ready, otherwise they will go to waste,” he says. “Growers always have a preference to employ local workers, particularly during the current economic environment that is resulting in many Australians losing their livelihoods, but the reality is that local workers, for whatever reason, have not taken up opportunities to work on fruit and vegetable farms.”
Whiteside says there are growing concerns in the industry that there will be a shortage of workers on fruit and vegetable farms, particularly given the decline in working holiday makers in Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
NFF CEO Tony Mahar says that, in a normal year, Northern Territory mango growers depend on a collective direct 2100-strong workforce, including a combination of locals, backpackers and Seasonal Worker Programme visa holders.
“Even in a typical year, the farm sector’s workforce is inadequate,” he says. “With state and international travel restrictions, farmers spanning fruit and vegetables, wool and grain are anxious about how they will find the people power they need to get the job done.
“The NFF and our members are engaged with Federal and state governments on measures to address the problem. Establishing so-called ‘travel bubbles’ between countries like Vanuatu and Australia is one example.”
Looking for work and want to lend a hand? The NFF has created a new online resource to connect Australian job seekers with farm sector employment.