10-point plan responds to looming harvest crisis

Harvst-2019

Better coordination is needed to overcome the accommodation and transport challenges facing those interested in seasonal labour, especially in light of the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation.

NSW Farmers is responding to the looming harvest worker shortage with a 10-point plan aimed at tackling the ongoing crisis.

International and state border restrictions have heavily limited the movement of workers to farms in time for upcoming grains, fruit and vegetable harvests, raising serious concerns that produce will be left to go to waste.

NSW Farmers’ President James Jackson said in the years prior to the onset of COVID-19 related border restrictions, up to half of the state’s harvest workforce was comprised of overseas workers.

“There have been longstanding challenges in attracting workers to agriculture, particularly domestic workers, however the pandemic has forced us to adapt very quickly to having fewer workers entering the state,” Mr Jackson said.

“We need short-term and long-term solutions. In the short-term, we need certainty and clarity for farm workers amid changing conditions of travel and border restrictions.”

“The Agricultural Workers’ Code is a great start, but we need to ensure the code is being interpreted consistently across states.”

“Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall has taken the step of inviting the Queensland, Victorian and Tasmanian Governments to establish an East Coast Agriculture Labour Task Force that will also include industry representatives. This is a good idea and let’s hope it goes ahead quickly and achieves improved mobility of workers across state borders.”

“We also need timely inflow of international seasonal workers through schemes including the Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme, as well as the impending Agriculture Workforce Visa.”

Mr Jackson said better coordination is needed to overcome the accommodation and transport challenges facing those interested in seasonal labour, especially in light of the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation.

“NSW Farmers is calling for an expansion of the ‘Help Harvest NSW’ program to include coordinators as the conduit between interested workers, farm businesses, government agencies and relevant stakeholders in the regions to streamline efforts for getting more people to farms.”

“Different regions face their own set of challenges, and we call on the government to provide grants to implement novel or localised initiatives to attract and/or facilitate the COVID safe movement and stay of seasonal workers.”

“An Agriculture Workforce Working Group comprising government agencies and industry stakeholders would greatly assist efforts to find timely and sustainable solutions to seasonal worker shortages in agriculture.”

Mr Jackson said seasonal work is highly suited to university or school students on break, and incentives such as subsidised transport, HECS relief or a bonus payment could attract more workers to agriculture.

“Attracting domestic workers to agriculture would also involve targeted communications campaigns highlighting the abundance of opportunities in agriculture, and NSW Farmers is calling for an industry wide coordinated campaign.”

“Agility in training is required, and we support expanded access to fully funded short courses relevant to agriculture and primary industries,” Mr Jackson concluded.

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