17 November, 2020
Worker shortages update
Workforce shortages update
The Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) is continuing work to address ongoing workforce shortages and growers’ concerns around this increasingly critical issue.
Requests of Queensland Government
ABGC has written to the Queensland Government concerned at a change in policy with the Queensland trial Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS). On 4 November, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) advised Approved Employers that now, only farms able to house more than 30 workers during their two-week quarantine, on or near farm, were eligible to access the SWP employees.
ABGC noted that this policy change was not workable for at least 95 percent of banana growers in Queensland.
We have asked the Government to reverse this new policy decision. We contended that small lots of workers quarantining together can be more COVID-safe than 30 or more. Indeed, if a COVID outbreak happened, the disease would be much easier to bring under control with a smaller cohort.
DAF has stated that the reason for the policy change was that it is a more COVID-safe approach. It added that it does not have the capacity to monitor compliance of the additional Seasonal Workers that would result from quarantining of small cohorts.
ABGC therefore also formally requested the redeployment of staff from other Departments who operate regionally to assist DAF with these audits.
Quarantine in cities and towns
As another option to on-farm quarantining for the SWP and PLS trial, the ABGC has asked the Queensland Government to consider allowing Approved Employers, especially those managing small groups of seasonal workers, to quarantine workers in cities and towns.
We have followed up that correspondence with phone calls to DAF. It currently appears that the Government is considering small numbers to quarantine in Cairns and Brisbane without the need to work during this period, secured by the Police and costing Approved Employers $2800 for each worker.
Requests of the Australian Government
At last week’s quarterly Board meeting, the ABGC Board moved to strongly reinforce to the Australian Government, via the National Farmers Federation’s Hort Council and via key Senators and Federal MPs the need for a viable SWP/PLS. Solid pathways need to be in place to give growers and industries certainty.
ABGC will also continue to advocate for an expansion of the trial SWP as a matter of urgency.
Attracting local workers
Furthermore, ABGC is looking into ways to connect growers with locals for work, perhaps using the ABGC website/social networks to advertise for local employees.
Possible additional Vanuatu Flights
Approved Employers (AEs) are being encouraged to register interest in plans for potential additional flights of Seasonal Worker Program workers from Vanuatu.
The Approved Employers Association is urging all interested AEs to contact coordinator Luke Cini on [email protected] to register.
AEs must meet Queensland Government’s SWP/PLS eligibility criteria
The ABGC will be also requesting the Queensland Government to commit to a Seasonal Worker Program model similar to one proposed by the Tasmanian State Government.
Under the Tasmanian scheme, seasonal workers from overseas locations will start arriving in Hobart from December 2. A total of five flights (containing 162 workers each) will be quarantined for two weeks in a Tasmanian Government-approved and funded facility before being dispatched to work the berry season.
As well as funding the workers’ quarantine period, the Tasmanian Government will also be providing the SW’s with a AUD$250 gift card once their quarantine period has been completed.
Board meeting and AGM
ABGC directors and senior staff met for their quarterly Board meeting at Mission Beach last week.
Worker shortages was a major topic of discussion at the meeting and was also raised at the AGM held in Tully on Thursday afternoon.
Other issues included;
The AGM saw all eight Board Directors retain their positions.
On the Executive Committee, Stephen Lowe (QLD) will continue on as ABGC Chair, with Leon Collins (QLD) retaining the Deputy Chair position and Ben Franklin (QLD) staying on as Treasurer.
Other directors continuing their role on the board include; Stephen Spear (NSW), Paul Inderbitzin (QLD), Jade Buchanan (QLD), Doriana Mangili (WA/NT) and Andrew Serra (QLD)
ABGC directors were given a comprehensive insight into the latest water quality research being undertaken as part of the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project (MIP).
Four MIP representatives – Acting Project Leader Fiona George, Project Officer Alicia Buckle and District Extension Officers Will Darveniza and Maria Ribbeck, provided a summary to the Board of the latest outcomes from extensive water quality monitoring in the Johnstone and Tully catchments.
Graduate banana extension officer
The Board approved the employment of a graduate extension officer via an internship-style program delivered by the Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF).
ABGC recently lodged an Expression of Interest in the program and if successful, the trainee will be based in the South Johnstone office with the Reef Team, but would be exposed to the wider ABGC organisation during their employment.
Roadshows roll on
The National Banana Roadshow Series hits the subtropical growing regions of New South Wales this week, with a stop in Murwillumbah on Thursday (November 19) and Coffs Harbour on Friday (November 20).
Dubbed the mini roadshow series, the shorter, COVID-safe events run over three hours and cover topics including banana varieties, innovation and other priority industry issues.
Grower feedback from the first two events in Innisfail and Tully was positive, and there’s still time to RSVP for later events in Mareeba and Carnarvon.
More information here: https://betterbananas.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/2020-Roadshow-Series-flyer.pdf
Grower survey – farm workers, biosecurity and Panama TR4
The Panama TR4 Program would like to find out how biosecurity messages are being delivered to workers on banana farms, and if the messages being delivered are resulting in effective implementation of procedures.
The Program aims to identify educational tools to support growers and improve farm workers understanding of the important role they play in helping to minimise the spread of Panama TR4.
If you would like to share your views, please complete our 5 minute survey online or contact the Program’s Engagement Officer, Rebecca Breaden on 07 4091 8140 or email [email protected]
Also, it is important for membership purposes that growers advise ABGC if they change trading name or their agent (wholesaler) or add one, and also to let their agent know.