For more than twelve months now, banana growers have been dealing with a new workforce reality involving significantly less employees and an uncertain future.
In fact, the arrival of COVID-19 put unprecedented pressure on almost all Australian agri-businesses, as regular labour options ceased with the closure of international borders. For the banana industry, this comes on top of severe weather, a long period of poor prices and the day-to-day challenges of maintaining a farming business.
As noted in the CEO column, the Australian Banana Growers’ Council has been advocating on behalf of industry on worker issues since March 2020. The ABGC wants practical solutions that enable growers to access the workers they need in a timely and COVID safe manner.
But with an entire sector crying out for employees across the country, and a pandemic still evolving at our doorstep, the challenge is ongoing.
The ABGC has thrown its support behind attempts to get locals into jobs, but knows – like all growers do – that supply cannot match demand. These efforts, particularly targeting young people, are ongoing. The Banana Jobs Noticeboard is still active and can be added to by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Queensland and Federal Governments have also released a raft of incentives hoping to entice people into agriculture, though the ABGC has yet to see evidence of their success. The ABGC is in close contact with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, who acknowledge there are bottlenecks at Queensland Health that are causing a lag in approvals.
They have taken on board feedback aimed at speeding up the process, with more resources being allocated. In addition, the state government is still watching the South Australian pilot of pre-departure quarantine and pursuing options for regional quarantine facilities.
In March 2021, it was confirmed that the PLS/SWP was no longer in a pilot phase in Queensland. While authorities are keeping a close eye on new, infectious strains in places like Papua New Guinea, this was some good news for industry. At this stage, plans surrounding the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Workers Programme, as well as other workforce options, are continuing under the assumption that international borders won’t open until 2022. It’s unlikely Working Holiday Visa holder levels will reach the same levels as pre-COVID until 2023.
The ABGC continues to advocate and search for creative solutions to worker shortage issues. Feedback is welcome on 07 3278 4786 or email@example.com.