Seasonal workers: issues state by state
Last Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the government’s intention to restart the Seasonal Workers Programme (SWP), which could provide some relief for anticipated worker shortages next harvest. The announcement followed a national cabinet meeting, during which it was also agreed to come up with a plan to allow farmers to cross state borders more easily within the next two weeks.
Apple and Pear Australia Ltd (APAL), the national peak industry body for apple and pear growers, has been looking at the issue state by state. Here’s a quick rundown:
In the state hit hardest by the crisis, industry bodies like Fruit Growers Victoria have been encouraging growers to redeploy seasonal workers where possible after work has finished on a farm. There has also been backlash at calls to scrap the Working Holiday Visa used by backpackers who provide a vital labour pool during busy periods.
Victorian grower Peter Hall of Integrity Fruits in Ardmona calls for working holiday and seasonal workers programs to be streamlined to meet the needs of COVID-19 shortages.
“No-one can be reliant on one source totally,” he says. “You need a system where you can get workers from Vanuatu, Fiji, the Pacific Islands, bring them in, make sure they haven’t got the virus, and then send them to appropriate states.”
Apple and Pear Growers of South Australia CEO Susie Green says that while everyone would love to be employing Australians to pick fruit, the issue isn’t that simple.
“Certainly, there is a level of concern among growers about what’s to come,” she says. “The difference for us, compared to other states, is that we do get a significant number of workers come up from Adelaide. Our region isn’t too far away from a metropolitan area. The big unknown is the lack of backpackers and the flow-on effects from that. “
State Minister for Primary Industries and Water Guy Barnett has announced a new $1.9 million Agricultural Workforce Resilience Package over two years. This will assist with mobilising Tasmanians to help with the upcoming planting, production and harvest seasons.
The package features a local agricultural jobs campaign designed to encourage Tasmanians struggling to find employment to consider a new career option. There’s also a boost to Safe Farming Tasmania to ensure new agricultural employees are workforce–ready.
It’s true COVID cases are low in WA. But Nardia Stacey, Executive Manager at Pomewest, says stringent border controls complicate matters when it comes to accessing labour.
“It’s certainly the priority issue that faces the WA pome industry at the moment,” she says. “Especially as we prepare for the next thinning and harvest season.”
Stacey says there’s concern over whether there’ll be enough willing locals to pick the fruit. “We’re encouraging WA pome growers to register their labour requirements on recruitment platforms and agencies,” she says. “That way we can understand the situation better.
“We’d also be calling for incentives. It might be a reduction of HECS. Or making sure you still get JobSeeker if you do a block of work. Ultimately, we would love to see as many Australians as possible working on orchards during the next harvest.”
New South Wales
The NSW government is imploring its residents to make the most of the thousands of agricultural jobs that are available. The Help Harvest NSW website has been created as a one-stop-shop for those looking for workers or work in rural NSW.
Jobs listed aren’t just for fruit picking. There are also roles in sales, research and development, marketing and merchandising for horticulture and agriculture.
NSW Farmers CEO Pete Arkle has welcomed dialogue around the new travel code arrangement. “Our member survey indicates that 90 percent of farm businesses on the NSW-Victorian border have felt an impact from the border closure,” he says. “Sixty-six percent of our members need to cross the border on a more than weekly basis.”
Queensland representative state bodies have been encouraging growers to use the Harvest Trail website to connect with workers, and vice-versa.
Peak state body Growcom has also been encouraging growers to take time to understand their obligations as businesses. This is due to the state government’s COVID-19 compliance checks that have been taking place.
Queensland grower and APAL board member Rosie Savio says growers are concerned about workforce shortages. But she believes the SWP announcement on Friday was positive.
“It’s a big problem, and it’s obviously very hard to get domestic workers,” she says. “If we can get them in through the SWP and find a way to make sure they quarantine for a few weeks? That will definitely help.”