In the years prior to the onset of COVID-19, up to half of the Australian agricultural workforce was comprised of international workers. Border restrictions and the gradual loss of international workers from Australia amid the pandemic are significant contributors to the acute labour shortages being felt across agriculture in industries including grains, horticulture, shearing and meat processing.
NSW Farmers has released a 10-point plan aimed at addressing the shortfall, covering both short-term and long-term solutions to the ongoing crisis. The plan encompasses the need for greater clarity and certainty around the inter- and intra-state movement of workers, the need to fast-track the movement of international workers under schemes such as the Seasonal Worker Program and the upcoming Agriculture Visa, and the need for better coordination to connect interested workers with farms.
The latest COVID-19 outbreak affecting both regional and metropolitan NSW poses a significant threat to the ability to shore up a workforce in time for harvest, compounding the challenges the sector has faced for some time. Farm businesses and regional communities will be required to pivot to meet COVID-safe requirements on farm and in accommodation and transport for workers. NSW Farmers urges the state government to provide immediate financial assistance to aid businesses in quickly adjusting to these new conditions.
The workforce solution will undeniably include attracting a stronger domestic contingent to farms. Seasonal labour is highly suited to university and school students on break, and incentives such as a bonus payment, HECS relief, and transport subsidies could help attract these workers to grains and horticulture enterprises in time for harvest.
Potential workers can only be connected with farms if they know where to go. NSW Farmers is calling for the establishment of a network of 'Help Harvest NSW' coordinators as the conduit between interested workers and farm businesses. Targeted communications campaigns will also highlight the abundance of opportunities in agriculture.
- James Jackson, NSW Farmers president
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