Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Action needed to secure fruit and veg harvest

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NSW Farmers, Media Release, 24 February 2021

Photo by amoon ra on Unsplash

NSW Farmers has developed a five-point-plan to tackle an acute seasonal labour shortage in the agricultural sector and avoid an impending shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The plan focuses on lowering quarantine costs, a workable visa approval process, state control of arrival caps, increased incentives for Australian workers and labour mobility across state borders.

NSW Farmers’ CEO Pete Arkle said time was running out for the state and federal governments to work on a solution to ensure the country has the required amount of workers available to assist with harvests during 2021.

“So far fruit and vegetable crop losses across the country as a direct result of ongoing labour shortages now exceed $50 million,” Mr Arkle said.

“These crops include berries, tomatoes, carrots, citrus, bananas, pumpkins, chilli and leafy green vegetables.”

Only around 40,000 working holiday makers (mainly backpackers) remain in Australia, compared to around 200,000 pre-COVID levels – and they are leaving Australia to return home at around 1000 per week.

“Unfortunately the federal government’s attempts to address the worker shortage have failed and because of the nature of the jobs, attracting local workers is incredible hard, often impossible,” Mr Arkle said.

The NSW Farmers’ Association five-point-plan to tackle the labour shortage crisis in agriculture is:

  1. Lower costs- Facilitation and subsidies of quarantine costs to restart the Pacific Labour Scheme and the Seasonal Workers Program.
  2. Workable visas – Expedited visa approval process and assistance to coordinate the sharing of seasonal workers during their stay/flexibility introduced to current visa requirements.
  3. State control of arrival caps – States being given greater control to manage the make-up of the state’s arrivals cap so that international workers can be brought in.
  4. Encourage domestic workers – Increase incentives for agricultural work.
  5. Mobile Workers – Ensuring labour mobility across state borders for workers in agriculture and related supply chain is maintained despite fluctuations in new cases of COVID.

“Time isn’t on our side and we’re encouraging the state and federal governments to work together to find a suitable solution to this increasing worrying situation.”

Otherwise Australians won’t see the selection of fruit and vegetables that they’re used to and they’ll inevitably be paying more,” Mr Arkle concluded.

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