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 Luke@simonettagroup.com.au 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.