NSW Farmers has welcomed the NSW Government’s commitment to offering half-price quarantine costs for overseas workers, but hopes it will extend until at least mid-2022 to help with future cropping seasons.
The COVID-induced seasonal worker drought has caused up to $52 million national losses in the last five months as crops have been left to rot due to not having enough workers in Australia to pick them.
In a bid to ease this burden, the NSW Government has now agreed to pay half of the hotel quarantine bill for workers for 2020-21 meaning it will now cost $1,500 per worker, rather than $3,000.
NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall announced the commitment yesterday and expects it will see an increase in applications through the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) and the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) as the funding relief will make this a more viable option for farmers.
“We know that our primary producers rely on seasonal and foreign workers, but we have heard loud and clear that the cost of mandatory quarantine is a significant barrier for farming businesses wanting to employ overseas workers,” Mr Marshall said.
“As a result of today’s announcement, we expect to see an increase in applications through the Pacific Labour Scheme and or Seasonal Worker Program as the proposition for farmers becomes a lot more viable.”
NSW Farmers President James Jackson says the commitment is a positive step forward but he hopes it will continue past the 2020–21 financial year.
“NSW fruit and vegetable growers have already amassed millions of dollars worth of crop losses, causing heartache for an industry coming out of prolonged drought, bushfires, and now floods,” Mr Jackson said.
“This move will bring NSW in line with other states that have introduced support for quarantine costs, however, this commitment is for just over two months as it runs out at the end of the financial year.”
Mr Jackson says the commitment also includes retrospective support to employers who have already incurred the full hotel quarantine costs to bring desperately needed workers to Australia.
“This is a big tick for the NSW Farmers five-point-plan on addressing the worker shortage. The fact that agricultural workers are not included in the state’s 3,000 person per week arrivals cap is another tick for our plan, as we asked for state controlled flexibility of arrival caps to facilitate the arrival of seasonal workers, but long term success will require the NSW Government to subsidise quarantine costs beyond this financial year,” Mr Jackson said.
Sharing seasonal workers across farms
Mr Jackson said there also needs to be a priority placed on sharing seasonal workers across farms during their stay, so that small to medium to farm businesses can also access harvest workers when required.
Mr Jackson said figures show the horticulture sector is suffering from a massive seasonal workforce shortage and needs another 4,000 seasonal workers to fill the immediate gap and an additional 2,000 to cover peak seasonal harvest demands.
“Our modelling shows a 50 per cent decrease in seasonal workers would result in a $500 million reduction in the state’s output of fresh produce by the end of 2021-22 season.”
If you enjoyed this feature on half-price quarantine, you might like our story on the ongoing shortage of labour in the ag sector.