AUSVEG, the industry representative for Australia’s vegetable and potato growers, is urging vegetables growers across the country to assess their labour needs and forward plan now before the busy spring and summer harvest seasons.
The call for forward planning comes as the number of foreign workers, which the industry has relied on for harvesting produce, has fallen due to the restrictions on international travel. This has coincided with harsher restrictions on movement of farm workers across borders on the eastern seaboard, which has left some businesses short of workers during their busy harvest period.
AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside says that with the availability of foreign workers is significantly reduced than usual for this time of the year, and that growers need to be as proactive as possible in assessing their labour needs so that they can protect themselves as much as possible from worker shortages.
Working Holiday Makers and Seasonal Workers numbers in Australia are down about 35 per cent on where they would normally be and that is expected to continue to decline further as we get closer to Christmas. Unfortunately, with the international border restrictions and with no clear end in sight, it is difficult to for growers and industry to plan for an international workforce,” said Mr Whiteside.
“It is also made more difficult with domestic border closures, which is why it is crucial growers plan and advertise their workforce needs as early as possible.”
“Growers will always have a preference to employ local workers, and the reality is that our industry cannot rely on international workers as they have done in the past to supplement the workers they need that cannot be sourced from the local labour pool.”
“We cannot predict what the short-, medium- and long-term challenges of dealing with COVID-19 are in different states across the country, so it is critical that growers start thinking about their labour requirements for the coming months so that they can investigate mitigation plans in case there are further disruptions to the movement of people across borders and regions.”
“The reality is that the demand for labour is likely to exceed supply in many areas and it is likely that those growers who have paid attention to the need for alternative labour sourcing arrangements earlier will see the least disruption to their operations.”
Growers are encouraged to lodge their labour needs through the Harvest Trail Service so that they can find workers who are willing and able to work on vegetable farms.
AUSVEG has been working with federal and state governments to try to improve grower access to labour, but there is a shortage of information on the size of the problem. To address this, EY has been engaged by Hort Innovation to better define the industry’s workforce needs.
“AUSVEG strongly encourages growers to complete the online survey that EY has developed,” said Mr Whiteside. The EY survey can be found at globaleysurvey.ey.com/jfe/form/SV_esQae5zI1WYhGBv.
AUSVEG also encourages those displaced workers who are fit and active and are looking for work in horticulture to head to the JobActive website .
“Of course the industry welcomes local workers who are willing and able to work on farms and who may be interested in working in horticulture due to the current economic situation, but they cannot simply show up at farm gates. They need to lodge their need using existing services such as Harvest Trail, which helps place workers on farms that need them,” said Mr Whiteside.
“This is a unique and difficult time for Australia and Australian growers, so we urge people to work together and if you are looking for work to consider an opportunity in horticulture.”