COVID-19 restrictions impact farm workforce

Liz Wells March 26, 2020

TRAVEL bans and state border closures introduced to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus have thrown a question mark over labour force availability for rural industries during peak work periods.

GrainGrowers chair, Brett Hosking, said the restrictions could have an impact on the grain sector during the current winter sowing period and at harvest time.

“We have had concerns raised by growers in various parts of the country, starting in Western Australia and now through New South Wales and Queensland, where they are relying on backpackers coming in,” he said.

“A lot of growers rely on backpackers coming in for seeding. There has been concern raised around what the new border restrictions will mean for the workforce that has been planned a few months in advance. Suddenly that has been thrown into chaos.”

However, Mr Hosking said it could be an opportunity for Australians who had been dislocated from other areas of the workforce to find employment in the farming sector.

“People from other industries now have the opportunity to learn about the grains industry and get involved in putting the crop in. It could be a chance to use labour that is already located domestically,” he said.

Call for visa changes

Meanwhile, the United Workers Union (UWU) has called for urgent action to protect Australian farm workers and resolve the visa status of migrant workers on Australian farms during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Migrant workers are being left in limbo due to the uncertainty of ever-changing travel restrictions and border closures, and no guaranteed access to safe and affordable healthcare amidst the global coronavirus pandemic,” UWU spokesperson Jannette Armstrong said.

“They are also facing the same key issue that all insecure workers in Australia are facing: Can they afford to self isolate?

“As casual workers and non-citizens, temporary migrant workers do not have the visa security, wage support and access to healthcare they need to be protected in this national health crisis.”

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said governments were working together to address industry’s concerns and were close to making changes to visa arrangements.



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