Agricultural labour concerns addressed

Agricultural visa restrictions eased to address potential labour shortfall

Horticulture
Temporary visa extensions are available for working holiday makers and those within the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program, to secure agriculture's labour workforce.

Temporary visa extensions are available for working holiday makers and those within the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program, to secure agriculture's labour workforce.

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The federal government's decision to ease agricultural visa restrictions has been welcomed by Queensland's horticultural sector.

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The federal government's decision to ease agricultural visa restrictions has been welcomed by Queensland's horticultural sector.

Industry lobbied extensively for the changes over the past month as increased restrictions were put in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Some of the uncertainty about if labour would be available at harvest time has now been removed, according to Growcom CEO David Thomson.

"We've had the helicopter announcement and now we have to get to the details so small businesses and growers know what their obligations are," Mr Thomson said.

Matching up supply and demand was now a key focus, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said it was vital farmers were able to maximise their hard work and economic returns.

"We can't afford to see fruit rotting on trees and vines, and vegetables left unpicked," he said.

Mr McCormack said the visa changes would exempt agricultural working holiday makers from the six-month work limitation with the one employer, and give them eligibility for a further visa should the current one expire within the next six months.

The changes would also apply to Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme workers, allowing them to extend their stay for up to 12 months.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the government would work with states and territories to ensure health controls were in place to protect rural communities.

Mr Littleproud said conditions would be placed upon visa holders to self-isolate for 14 days before taking up employment in a different region.

We can't afford to see fruit rotting on trees and vines, and vegetables left unpicked. - Michael McCormack

Bowen-Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker said they were very pleased to hear workers would have to self-isolate when moving between regions.

He said there had been concerns transient workers and backpackers could unknowingly bring the virus into the area and they could not afford to lose horticulture.

The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the tourism industry in Bowen and the Whitsundays, leaving horticulture as the largest economic driver in the region.

"It is good to rely on local workers but, under these conditions where we don't know who is going to get sick and who isn't, we need a pliable workforce we can draw on to fill in gaps," he said.

"Economically, if we are going to survive the next 12 months, we must self-isolate and must minimise contact with outside individuals."

Mr Walker urged workers not to cold call or drive to farms, and to register on harvesttrail.org.au instead.

Both state Agriculture Minister Mark Furner and northern Queensland opposition spokesman Dale Last had raised the issue with the federal government and were pleased to see it had been addressed.

"The state government, through its Agricultural Coordination Group, is continuing to work closely with agricultural industry stakeholders to facilitate the safe movement of seasonal agricultural workers," Mr Furner said.

"Ensuring appropriate supply of workers while preventing further spread of coronavirus is complex but the discussions continue to progress well."

Mr Last said the quick resolution of the issue was a credit to the federal government and, unfortunately, highlighted the need for government at all levels to act decisively while remaining flexible where possible.

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