FGT releases COVID-19 seasonal labour strategy
Fruit Growers Tasmania | Wednesday, 26 August 2020, 8.00am
In March 2020, it became clear that the global impact of COVID-19 would potentially affect the movement and availability of seasonal labour for the Tasmanian fruit sector. These challenges include:
- High dependence on seasonal workers
- Traditionally low levels of interest shown by domestic residents to fill seasonal roles
- Shortage of non-resident workers within the state
- No entry of overseas non-resident workers into Australia
- Decreasing pool of non-resident workers present within the country
- Reduced incentive for non-resident workers to participate in agriculture if they have already qualified for their second year visa
- Barriers to the movement of persons between state jurisdictions
FGT released a survey to growers in the fruit industry to determine their labour requirements in order to assist in planning for the expected impacts that the pandemic will place on businesses. Almost all (95%) survey respondents confirmed that they rely on seasonal labour in their business, with the window of demand for seasonal labour starting in November and finishing in May. January is the peak month with the fruit industry, requiring the highest number (7908) of seasonal employees. The expected breakdown of these figures is:
- 26% local seasonal workers, 2023 jobs;
- 19% Pacific Island Workers, 1517 jobs;
- 43% Working Holiday Makers, 3414 jobs;
- 12% International Students, 954 jobs
On 10 August we wrote to the relevant Tasmanian and Federal Government Ministers as well as the Federal Government senators and House of representative members for Tasmania. We outlined the results of our survey work and proposed 9 initiatives aimed at addressing the Tasmanian fruit industry’s seasonal labour requirements for 2020-21. 4 of these initiatives were the prime responsibility of the Tasmanian Government, 3 of the Federal Government and 2 of industry. See list of initiatives
The Tasmanian Government has responded to this call for action, with Minister Barnett announcing the Agricultural Workforce Resilience Package as the Tasmanian Government’s initial response to encouraging Tasmanians to take up seasonal work opportunities. This is a good start.
- We asked for the Harvest Trail to play a central role and this has been recognised. It’s by no means the only option out there for growers, but it is central. In addition, the Premier and Minister have talked about the need for a register for seasonal workers. This is critical, and registration needs to be made early enough to ascertain the shortfall in available local workers.
- It adopts our idea of the marketing campaign. This is crucial. Our challenge will be to ensure there are 2 parts to this. One to encourage locals to pursue seasonal work opportunities, and for locals, and one to attract people interstate to travel to Tasmania to do so.
- The regional transport financial support was something we had discussed with the department. It’s a positive, and will make it possible for those without other transport options to take up seasonal work opportunities.
Minister Barnett also announced the Tasmanian Agribusiness Workforce Roundtable to progress actions required on attracting and retaining seasonal workers in particular. Fruit Growers Tasmania has been asked to be part of that Roundtable which we will use as a mechanism to advance all initiatives to address the seasonal labour needs. It is essential for our industry to give Tasmanians every reasonable chance to take up the very significant number of seasonal job opportunities afforded by our industry.
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that we will need a combined approach given the quantity and duration of seasonal workers needed. We will need to attract workers from a variety of sources, and we will need to pursue these options concurrently. The Premier very importantly stated “work is underway to formulate what will need to be very strict rules should we need to import labour due to a shortfall in Tasmanian workers able to do this work.” The Premier has separately stated “the worse thing would be to have jobs available that can’t be filled”. Towards this end, we welcome and support the part played by the Premier that saw National Cabinet agree to resume the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme, and look forward to assisting the Tasmanian Government in any way we can to develop safe managed pathways for these workers.
While the Prime Minister played a key role in the resumption of the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme, we have not yet received a response from the Federal Government regarding the other initiatives where they have prime responsibility and we are pursuing a response.
As an industry, we also have work to do on our two initiatives – using the harvest trail as a central (but not only) location and the provision of on-farm accommodation, potentially to support on-farm ‘quarantine’ for workers arriving from interstate or overseas.
We acknowledge that there is plenty of work to do and please be assured it is our number 1 priority right now, and we remain committed to seeing all nine initiatives in place ahead of the coming season.