The National Farmers’ Federation Chief Executive Officer, Tony Mahar said a move to bring seasonal workers from Vanuatu to the Northern Territory was a pragmatic decision needed to keep the top end’s 2020 mango harvest on track.
“The beginning of the NT’s mango picking season is imminent. In a normal year, NT mango growers depend on a collective direct 2100-strong workforce, including a combination of locals, backpackers and seasonal worker program visa holders.
“COVID-19 travel restrictions have left growers extremely concerned about how they are going to source the workforce they need to pick and pack this year’s crop.
“With credit very much to the Northern Territory Farmers Association, the Federal Government and the NT Government, today we welcome a plan for a trial to safely bring up to 170 workers from Vanuatu, pursuant to the Seasonal Workers Program,” Mr Mahar said.
Each eligible worker must return a negative COVID-19 test before departing and be required to self-isolate for 14-days after arriving in Australia, before commencing work.
To be eligible, mango growers will also be required to demonstrate that they are unable to secure local workers.
Mr Mahar said agriculture was bracing for ongoing, widespread and unprecedented labour shortages.
“Even in a typical year, the farm sector’s workforce is inadequate. With international and state travel restrictions, this year, farmers spanning fruit and vegetable production, wool and grain growing are anxious about how they will find the people power they need to get the job done.
“The NFF and our members are engaged with Federal and state governments on measures to address the problem. Establishing so-called ‘travel bubbles’ between countries like Vanuatu and Australia is one example.”
Mr Mahar said it was hoped today’s announcement would act as a blueprint to address critical worker shortages in other parts of the sector.
“The Shearing Contractors Association of Australia estimates that without the usual 500 visiting New Zealand shearers, up to 430,000 sheep may not be shorn on time.
“With New Zealand a world leader in the management of the spread of COVID-19, with the proper precautions and safeguards it may be possible to bring NZ shearers to Australia to help with the spring shearing season.”
The NFF is also working with the Backpacker and Youth Tourism Advisory Panel to develop a ‘COVIDsafe pathway’ proposal which would allow working holiday makers from countries with low infection rates to enter Australia in a highly controlled manner.
Mr Mahar said farmers would always prefer to employ Australians, however for many reasons, seasonal work did not always suit local job seekers.
“With so many Australians now looking for work, the NFF continues to promote the jobs and career path opportunities on offer in agriculture.
“The NFF has created a new online resource to connect Australian job seekers with farm sector employment.
“However, the fact is, farmers require a combination of both Australian and foreign workers.”
Mr Mahar said the main priority for the NFF and its members, was the health and wellbeing of all Australians.
“It is essential that all COVID-19 guidelines are followed. The NFF has developed a COVID-19 Farm Workforce Guide.”
“The resource outlines the considerations for farm business operators when welcoming new workers, addressing accommodation, self-isolation and financial support.
“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,” Mr Mahar said.