Visa extensions for ag workers
The ABGC has received several grower inquiries regarding the status of visas for current workers.
Temporary visa holders working in agriculture, or with an offer of work in agriculture, can apply for the COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa to extend their stay and work in agriculture for up to 12 months. More information here.
The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has confirmed to the ABGC that 30 per cent of the 774 SWP and PLS workers who have quarantined so far have been recruited to work on banana farms.
While this number will fluctuate, this is a positive outcome for industry during what continues to be an incredibly challenging time.
The ABGC, and indeed all agricultural industries, have continued to advocate for an overall increase in the number of workers permitted to fly to Australia and for practical quarantine options to be available upon their arrival.
The ABGC is working closely with authorities and will keep growers updated on outcomes as they come to hand.
Current quarantine requirements
Approved Employers can find detailed information about current Queensland Government quarantine requirements online.
These key requirements include:
- Workers must be recruited from Pacific nations where the risk of COVID-19 is low.
- The quarantine accommodation must be isolated from populated areas.
- Between 30 and 80 workers must quarantine together as a group.
- AEs must arrange supervisors to quarantine with the workers. The supervisors must ensure there is no contact with other employees and the broader community.
- AEs are responsible for enforcing the International Quarantine Plan and meeting all associated costs including transport, accommodation, meals, COVID-19 tests and other worker needs.
If you think you can meet the above requirements, the next step is to read the on-farm quarantine guidelines and use the Queensland Government on-farm quarantine application form. For more information – and for options if you’re not an AE – see the factsheet here.
Worker shortages on banana farms continue to be an issue of critical concern. It is one of the ABGC’s highest priorities (to help ensure growers have access to staff), but the complexities of the matter – particularly the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) – coupled with government decisions and circumstances that change frequently, makes it an extremely difficult issue to navigate.
ABGC’s CEO Jim Pekin and Executive Officer Leanne Erakovic continue to have a range of discussions on harvest workforce needs for the banana industry, with growers, Approved Employers and Government representatives. Through these discussions and negotiations it is hoped we can continue to develop solutions to our workforce issues, both immediately and in the longer term.
In addition, the ABGC has established a dedicated Job Vacancies page and continues to promote banana farm work extensively to school leavers and university students, largely through social media. You can view two of the promotional videos, made by the ABGC, below.
Growers are encouraged to visit this page regularly for updates. You can also:
- Sign up to ABGC e-bulletins (email firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Follow ABGC on Facebook
- Ensure you are receiving the industry magazine Australian Bananas. Please email email@example.com with current details if you would like to be added to the distribution list.
- Contact Executive Officer Leanne Erakovic via email or on 07 3278 4786.
Additional resources and information for banana growers:
- Harvest Trail
- Farm Ready Hub
- Potential for I-Kiribati workers on banana farms (second item)
- COVID-19 effects on banana consumption (Australian Bananas magazine August 2020)
- COVID-19 effects on banana consumption (Australian Bananas magazine December 2020)
- Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network
- Back to Work in Agriculture Incentive Scheme
- Federal Government information on SWP
- Current COVID-19 situation and case numbers
Advertising for seasonal workers? Here are some tips from the QLD Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
If you’re advertising for seasonal workers, don’t forget to include details of the incentives that are now available.
We’ve noticed some employers are advertising on social media and on urban job boards, so we want to make sure your prospective workers have all the latest information, particularly if they’re new to the agricultural industry and keen to give it a go.
Some suggested wording for your job ads:
COVID 19 TIMELINE
Banana industry specific information is highlighted.
DECEMBER: A novel coronavirus is identified in China and reported to the WHO.
JANUARY: First confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Australia.
FEBRUARY: Travel to and from China is suspended.
MARCH: WHO declares a pandemic. Australia closes its borders to all non-residents and non-Australian citizens. Australians are banned from travelling overseas (with limited exceptions). Interstate borders begin to close. Measures including restrictions on gatherings, face masks and, in some cases, stricter lockdowns begin. Mandatory closure of non-essential services and social distancing rules. The Ruby Princess docks in Sydney. Pantry stocking (panic buying) takes place at many supermarkets. Agricultural groups (including the ABGC) begin lobbying to immediately extend visas of seasonal workers and backpackers to prevent food supply issues.
APRIL: Free childcare and Jobseeker payment introduced. The ABGC publicly calls for action on visas for workers, and the Federal Government announces extensions.
MAY: New direction issued by Queensland Government around employing seasonal workers. COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa made available.
JUNE: Restrictions begin to ease, albeit temporarily in some cases.
JULY: Victoria and NSW close their joint border. Melbourne begins another lockdown that lasts over 100 days. Queensland re-opens border, but not to Victoria.
AUGUST: Queensland closes border to NSW and ACT. The ABGC releases COVID-19 Health Management Plan template and continues to advocate for industry on workforce shortages. Federal Government announces restart of SWP and PLS and ABGC requests the Queensland Government opt in.
SEPTEMBER: Queensland border bubble extended. Victoria remains in hard lockdown. Restrictions are relatively normal, except for caps on numbers at some events and venues. Queensland Government opts in to SWP and PLS trial.
OCTOBER: Lockdown restrictions in Victoria begin to ease. More broadly, border restrictions continue to ease. Four week trial of SWP and PLS approved in QLD.
NOVEMBER: Queensland border open but closed to hotspots. The ABGC continues to advocate for more workable quarantine measures under the SWP/PLS trial. ABGC launches the Banana Jobs Noticeboard.
DECEMBER: Queensland border checks removed, before restrictions are re-imposed to NSW, following an outbreak. Queensland SWP trial extended.
JANUARY: Brisbane three-day lockdown. Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine provisionally approved. Seasonal workers touch down in FNQ to assist with harvesting fruit. ABGC notes this is a welcome step, but will not go near addressing the broader issue. Growcom reports that fruit and veg losses related to worker shortages have topped $38m.
FEBRUARY: As at February 2, Australia had recorded 28,818 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths. AN outbreak at the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport hotel sparks concern, with 13 cases as at Feb 12, and hundreds of close contacts. You can view the latest on vaccinations here.