After years of drought, farmers are finally facing an opportunity to reap the rewards of their hard work as bumper crops loom on the horizon. But labour shortages remain a significant and stubborn hurdle to reaching record-breaking harvests, and primary producers cannot afford to wait for the state to reopen to muster enough workers in time for their summer harvests.
NSW Farmers has joined forces with the National Farmers Federation to call for an immediate solution to get more workers to farms as quickly as possible. We propose a limited pilot of on-farm quarantine for 200 agricultural workers from low-risk countries, commencing when 70 per cent of adults in NSW are fully vaccinated.
A transition to on-farm quarantine arrangements in NSW as vaccination rates rise would alleviate a number of challenges the agriculture sector has faced in the hotel-quarantine model. The availability of hotel quarantine places in NSW is limited and further constrained by Sydney's disproportionately high intake of returning residents, increasing the likelihood agricultural workers will miss out on a place.
The cost of hotel-quarantine can be prohibitive to enterprises bringing workers to Australia under programs such as the Seasonal Worker Program. While we acknowledge the NSW Government's continuation of its hotel quarantine subsidy for agricultural workers, we believe on-farm quarantine is the most cost-effective option.
The state's agricultural workforce has taken a considerable blow over the COVID-19 pandemic, and our grains and horticulture sectors are expected to enter yet another harvest season with inadequate workers. But there is still a pool of workers available under current and new visa pathways, including the 27,000 workers in the Pacific region approved under the Seasonal Worker Program and the new wave of workers expected to arrive under the dedicated Agricultural Visa.
We cannot afford for the travel of these workers to be delayed by the bottleneck created by hotel-quarantine requirements, when on-farm quarantine is a feasible alternative.
- James Jackson, NSW Farmers president
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