Peak bodies call for calm, support amid shortage fears

NSW Farmers and Business NSW call for calm amid COVID-19 enforced labour and supply shortages

Coronavirus
Empty supermarket shelves across the state have caused concerns. Photo: File, Canberra Times

Empty supermarket shelves across the state have caused concerns. Photo: File, Canberra Times

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NSW Farmers and Business NSW weigh in on COVID-19 enforced supply and labour issues.

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TWO of the state's leading bodies have called for calm amidst concerns of labour and supply shortages caused by the state's ongoing COVID-19 surge.

NSW Farmers and Business NSW have weighed in on the situation which has caused supermarket shelves across the state to stand empty due to supply chain shortages.

The shortages, caused by staff at distribution and customer-facing levels having to miss work due to either having COVID-19 or being a close contact, is causing angst among consumers.

However, NSW Farmers president James Jackson called for calm, saying there was plenty of produce available.

"Our growers are sending plenty of produce down to the Sydney Markets, and we're working on making sure farm businesses can continue to harvest these crops," Mr Jackson said.

"Sadly, we've seen some companies and individuals use the scarcity of tests and images of empty shelves as an opportunity to lift their prices, so we would ask the ACCC to keep a close eye on retailers to make sure they don't bump up prices above any movements in the farm gate price of fresh fruit and vegetables."

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The Guyra-based sheep grazier said the availability of rapid antigen tests (RAT) would be key in helping overcome labour shortages.

"The big challenge for the agricultural sector now is sick workers and a lack of access to RATs, which are combining to create these broader supply chain issues you hear about," he said.

"We've seen some positive announcements, but the fact remains that the fresh food we enjoy is grown on Australian farms, and if our farmers can't get it out of their fields it won't make it to supermarket shelves

"What's needed most is expedited supply of tests for farmers so they can keep the food flowing to Aussie families.

"We need the agriculture sector - including harvest workers and those in the meat processing sectors, as well as those in transport and handling - to get prioritised access to (RAT) in the latest outbreak, lest we return to the scenes of early 2020 when customers were stockpiling food items."

Business NSW regional manager Joe Townsend echoed Mr Jackson's calls, saying while the sector wasn't "seeking a free handout", but government "support to keep the doors open for the first three months of 2022" was needed.

"Business NSW has been working closely with government on measures that can provide some swift and short-term support for businesses, at a time when they need it most," Mr Townsend said.

"These relief packages proposed include; allowing all close contact employees to return to the workplace on the presentation of a negative RAT, reducing the need for mandated periods of isolation, an extension of the SME Summer Stock Guarantee to allow impacted businesses to apply to the guarantee if their business has been closed due to a case on their premises leading to majority staff stand-down for more than three days and to abide by close contact instructions from NSW Health.

["As well as] an extension of the commercial rent relief for commercial tenants who have and likely will have closed or ceased trading between December 15 and January 14 due to current COVID trade impacts and reinstatement of the Hardship Review Panel to assess business impacts into 2022."

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