Certainty for farm workforce continuity & safety

The National Farmers’ Federation and its members have thanked the Government for providing foreign workers the opportunity to extend their visas and keep working on Australian farms.

The NFF and its members have been working collaboratively with the Government on the issue of farm workforce stability and safety for some time.

The decision to extend the visas of foreign workers already working in Australia pursuant to the Pacific Labour Scheme, Seasonal Worker Programmes, and Working Holiday Programmes, gives certainty to farmers when planning for upcoming plantings and harvest.

Importantly, it will permit a continuity of business in the production of fresh produce, that is so important to the health and wellbeing of Australians, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement made in Brisbane today by Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, will allow Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme workers to extend their stay for 12 months to work for approved employers.

Working Holiday Makers will be exempt from the six-month limit with one employer and be eligible for a further visa to continue helping farmers get on with the job.

“We thank Prime Minister Morrison, Deputy Prime Minister McCormack, Agriculture Minister Littleproud and Acting Minister for Immigration, Tudge for their understanding of the importance of foreign workers to the farm workforce,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.

“Farmers would always prefer to employ local workers and at this time, when some many are now without a job, we encourage Australians to consider farm work where their circumstances permit.

Australians can register their in interest in farm work at https://jobsearch.gov.au/harvest

“However, for many reasons farm work doesn’t attract adequate interest from Australians.

“This is perhaps even more so now during times when travel between states and within some states, is restricted and when people are especially wanting to stay close to their families.

“The farm sector relies on a combination of local and foreign workers to get fruit and vegetables picked and packed and ready for Australians to enjoy. Without international workers many farmers would be forced to leave produce to simply rot and die.”

Ms Simson said Australian farmers took very seriously their role in keeping their families, workers and communities safe from the spread of COVID-19.

“We support the Government’s the implementation of the requirements for visa holders to self-isolate for 14 days and register at www.australia.gov.au before taking up employment in a different region. We also support the tough sanctions if the requirements are not followed.

“For peace of mind for both worker and employer, farmers must prepare a declaration which both parties need to agree that all necessary protocols have been put in place to ensure human health.

To assist workers with managing the risk of COVID-19 spread the NFF has developed a COVID-19 Workplace Guide, which has been sent for review by the Chief Medical Officer.

The Guide outlines the considerations for farm business operators when welcoming new workers, addressing accommodation, quarantine and financial support.

It is vital that farm workers have accommodation that enables them to follow social distancing requirements.

It also contains essential information about the tightened social and hygiene practices required on farm and in staff living quarters. This includes how to respond should a worker either be suspected of having the virus or is in fact tested positive.

There is also a section on industrial relations detailing farmers rights and liabilities as employers.

“Today’s announcement is a pragmatic result that will ensure farmers can keep doing what they do best – growing world-class produce.

“Farmers are committed to supporting their fellow Australians through these tough times and to playing their role in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Ms Simson said.

See the COVID-19 Workforce Guide at https://farmhub.org.au/covid-19-nff-workplace-guide/

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