Ongoing workforce shortages hold Australia back

Farmers are continuing to deal with an avoidable loss of produce and farm income more than three months after the state’s peak agricultural body called for wide deployment of Rapid Antigen Testing to the regions.

In September last year NSW Farmers released a 10 Point Plan to tackle the agricultural skills shortage that threatened to derail harvest efforts, identifying RATs as an important way to keep the workforce moving in the face of repeated COVID outbreaks. NSW Farmers President James Jackson said the higher infection rate of the Omicron strain had brought the fragility of the agricultural workforce into sharp focus.

“If we didn’t have one of the best growing seasons ever our farmers would be in a very different position coming into 2022,” Mr Jackson said.

“Last year we lost fruit and vegetables because they weren’t picked in time and that problem is getting even worse for horticulture.

“For the croppers, there were harvesters sitting in sheds because there was no-one to drive them, and it was only the sheer scale of the overall harvest that kept the sector from falling down.”

Mr Jackson said there was one clear call coming out of COVID: we need more workers.

“We can’t keep waiting for governments to act – the disruptions of COVID are not going away any time soon, and we need real action on shoring up our agricultural workforce,” Mr Jackson said.

“It’s all well and good to talk about training workers, but what about the next harvest and the one after that?

“There are gaps appearing all over the labour market because of Omicron and a lack of RATs to meet public health mandates, and the farmers that grow our food are competing with restaurants and tourism for foreign workers.

“We need to look at all options to encourage work participation, because there are likely people out there who would help if they were allowed to or were not financially disadvantaged by doing so.

“Long-term reform of the labour market is needed, but we cannot wait years while our crops rot because there aren’t enough workers in the fields now.”

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