ACCOMMODATION support and national labour hire regulation are just two of 10 suggestions put forward to help bolster a horticulture workforce under current conditions.
The National Farmers' Federation's Horticulture Council has presented governments with the list of measures to attract displaced Australians to farm work and to safely restart the meaningful recruitment of foreign workers.
The Horticulture Council's 10-point approach includes:
- Seasonal Worker Programme Pilot Extension
- Incentives for domestic displaced workers
- Agricultural Workforce Code introduction
- Promotion of opportunities to work in agriculture
- Accommodation support
- Establishing a National Agricultural Workforce Development Network
- National Labour Hire Regulation
- Working Holidaymaker Restart
- Agriculture Visa
- Horticulture Industry Labour Agreement (HILA) additional occupations
The measures aim to provide temporary workers in regional areas with assurances they will be supported, safe, and have full access to essential amenities and entitlements while minimising the risks posed to individuals, businesses and communities from COVID-19.
Ausveg, which is a member of the Horticulture Council, has backed the list.
Ausveg chief executive officer, James Whiteside, described the plan as a "sensible roadmap" to address labour shortages and help ensure consistent supply of high-quality fruits and vegetables to local and international consumers.
"We have said that solutions to this issue will need a multi-pronged approach - access to an efficient and reliable workforce has been a long-term issue for vegetable growers that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic," Mr Whiteside said.
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"Fresh fruits and vegetables are a vital component to the health and wellbeing of every Australian and need to be picked and sent to market when they are ready, otherwise they will go to waste."
"There have been ongoing concerns in the industry that there will be a shortage of workers on fruit and vegetable farms particularly given the decline in Working Holiday Makers in Australia.
"We hope that common sense will prevail and that state and federal governments can agree on an agriculture workers movement code that will ensure the interstate movement of ag workers and essential industry workers - now is not the time to make it harder for farmers to supply fresh produce to consumers."
Mr Whiteside urged growers to adopt a workforce plan as much as possible as there was still expected to be a shortage in the sector due to backpackers returning home.
"We cannot predict what the short-, medium- and long-term challenges of dealing with COVID-19 are in different states across the country, so it is critical that growers start thinking about their labour requirements now for the coming months so that they can investigate mitigation plans in case there are further disruptions to the movement of people across borders and regions," Mr Whiteside said.
"Growers are urged to use the National Harvest Labour Information Service (NHLIS) to lodge their labour requirements to help manage their way through what is expected to be a turbulent time."
Growers are encouraged to lodge their labour needs through the Harvest Trail Service (employment.gov.au/harvest-trail-services) so that they can find workers who are willing and able to work on vegetable farms.
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