In yet another blow to the state’s intensifying harvest labour crisis, NSW has missed an opportunity to be part of a DFAT-run program that enables seasonal workers from Fiji and Vanuatu to work on local farms.
National fruit and vegetable crop losses resulting from the workforce conundrum now exceed $50 million, and the outcomes of today’s National Cabinet meeting confirm NSW is lagging behind other states and territories in developing a short-term solution.
NSW Farmers President James Jackson said demand for seasonal labour is currently peaking, yet our options for accessing labour have dwindled over recent months.
“Backpackers usually constitute the bulk of the workforce, but there’s less than a quarter of the pre-COVID numbers left in Australia and they continue to leave Australia by the thousands,” Mr Jackson said.
“NSW has a unique set of circumstances compared with the other states, which have contributed to us seeing a scarcity of workers coming through international terminals.”
“NSW is taking 3000 returned travellers a week, which is much more than any other state. Our quarantine costs have not been subsidised like in other states, and now we’re missing out on the DFAT program that South Australia put its hand up to trial.”
“NSW has already amassed millions of dollars in crop losses. That amount could have covered the quarantine cost subsidy for nearly 5,000 seasonal workers.”
“We have been calling for a temporary solution which, at a minimum, enables workers under the Seasonal Worker Program to move from employer to employer along the harvest trail.”
“This is part of a five-point plan NSW Farmers has developed, emphasising the need to mould existing labour programs to the conditions at hand so we can avoid further major crop losses.”
Mr Jackson said the federal and state governments must promptly work toward a holistic solution to the long and short term labour challenges facing the horticulture sector.
“We acknowledge the work the Australian Government has undertaken on labour issues, for example the National Agricultural Workforce Strategy which was released today,” Mr Jackson said.
“The Strategy offers medium and long term solutions for the labour challenges facing the sector and acknowledges the workforce crisis over COVID-19, but action is needed to support the industry right now.”
“The NSW and national agriculture sectors have decade-end targets that they won’t reach without a stable workforce. NSW’s pursuit of $30 billion by 2030 will undoubtedly be set back by this crisis.”