Leading Australian fresh fruit producer Piñata Farms has welcomed the Federal Government’s temporary visa changes which will allow growers to secure seasonal workers and continue supplying essential fresh produce.
Piñata Farms is among the fresh produce businesses behind powerful industry lobbyist, the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) which led crucial negotiations with the Government, in response to COVID-19 restrictions.
In welcoming the news announced over the weekend, managing director Gavin Scurr thanked the Government for listening to Australian growers and the AFPA for leading the charge on behalf of the industry.
“Growers were seriously under threat of not being able to harvest their crops. These temporary changes mean we can continue to provide fresh food for Australian consumers,” he said.
Queensland-based Piñata Farms, which is planting its winter strawberry crop at Wamuran, south-east Queensland, traditionally relies on a seasonal workforce of backpackers to pick and pack strawberries from May to October. Up to 500 people are employed during this time, with the season peaking in August. It also produces raspberries in Queensland and Tasmania and is scheduled to begin its Sunshine Coast harvest later this month.
Piñata’s annual seasonal workforce also includes about 50 workers from Vanuatu recruited under the Government’s Seasonal Worker Programme.
“Backpackers who lost their jobs in hospitality and tourism on the Sunshine Coast in mid-March were effectively adrift – unemployed, unable to return home due to travel restrictions, and facing the prospect of their visas expiring before the winter strawberry harvest began,” Mr Scurr said.
“These backpackers will now be eligible for visa extensions and exempt from the six-month limitation with one employer. They can now be redeployed into essential farm work. This is great news for everyone and eases a serious burden on growers,” he said.
Mr Scurr said Piñata Farms’ COVID-19 response plan included procedures to safely manage its workforce on farms, in packing sheds and on-farm accommodation and within the community.
The AFPA estimates more than 800,000 people are employed in Australia’s fresh produce industry. There are approximately 118,000 people in Australia on a Working Holiday visa working in critical sectors including food processing. The Government is expected to make further statements regarding the operation of the Seasonal Worker Programme.