Bumper Summer fruit and vegetable harvests could be ruined, driving supermarket prices up, if Covid restrictions on work-ready foreign pickers are not eased.
Growers are begging state premiers to drop requirements for hotel quarantine allowing almost 30,000 Pacific Islander workers to fill acute regional labour shortages.
Australia’s hotel quarantine system for overseas arrivals is overloaded, creating bottleneck blocking the arrival of much-needed workers arriving to ease a shortage of up to 24,000 workers.
Regional labour shortages have also been reported in accommodation, aged care, hospitality and health.
Growers are begging state premiers to drop requirements for hotel quarantine which could allow almost 30,000 Pacific Islander workers to fill acute regional labour shortages
The shortage of workers between now and early 2022 in horticulture is predicted to be up to 24,000 unless something changes. International workers from the Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme are pictured picking strawberries in Queensland
Between now and February, crops ready to harvest include melons, mangoes, cherries, potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes, oranges, strawberries, onions and various stone fruit.
But the ongoing shortage of pickers could mean crops are destroyed or some even left unplanted.
‘The industry continues to face severe labour shortages of up to 24,000 for the coming peak harvest seasons,’ said a statement from AusVeg, the peak industry body for the Australian vegetable and potato industries.
Oranges are one of the crops due to be harvested throughout the summer in South Australia and NSW
Australia’s hotel quarantine system for overseas arrivals is overloaded, creating bottleneck blocking the arrival of much-needed workers arriving to ease a shortage of up to 24,000 workers
In August, AusVeg claimed some growers were ‘forced to pay more than $3000 per worker to complete their quarantine before they have started work’.
Industry peak bodies including AusVeg, AgForce and the National Farmers Federation want states and territories to be more flexible over where much-needed foreigner workers have to quarantine.
A shortage of hotel quarantine places for workers is said to be the biggest barrier the industry faces for the 2021-22 growing season.
The foreign workers could instead do 14 day Covid quarantine periods in homes or ‘on-farm’, allowing them to get to work quicker and save crops that will soon be ready to harvest.
Queensland has brought in 3,000 workers via trials on ‘on-farm’ quarantine, The Australian reported.
‘The summer harvest looms large and farmers are readying themselves for another peak season without the workers they need to get the job done,’ National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said.
‘We are still getting crops ploughed into the ground or we’re having crops that aren’t even planted which has real impacts across the supply chain,’ said AgForce chief executive Michael Guerin.
He said the shortage of hotel quarantine places was ‘incredibly frustrating’ and had left some employers in ‘no man’s land’.
International Development Minister Zed Seselja said 27,000 Pacific workers, including 7000 who are fully-vaccinated, are ‘approved and ready to work’ in regional areas.
An estimated 27,000 Pacific workers, including 7000 who are fully-vaccinated, are ‘approved and ready to work’ in regional areas but our hotel quarantine systems remain a major stumbling block
Nearly 11,000 Pacific workers have come to Australia for fruit and vegetable picking since September 2020, mainly from Vanuatu, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Samoa
Nearly 11,000 Pacific workers have come to Australia for fruit and vegetable picking since September 2020.
They have mainly come from Vanuatu (4,334), Tonga (2210), Solomon Islands (1467) and Samoa (1259).
Others have arrived from Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.
The Federal government announced a series of reforms to the existing Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program, aimed at helping to ease labour shortages.
The reforms are aimed at reducing ‘red tape’ for employers, doubling recruitment caps, extending the length of stay for Pacific workers and removing an upper age limit of 45.
The Seasonal Worker Program was also expanded for employers working in ‘hotels and resorts’.
But the reforms do not address the quarantine issues.