Supporting the agriculture workforce during COVID-19

The Federal Liberal and Nationals Government is making temporary changes to visa arrangements to help farmers access the workforce they need to secure Australia’s food and produce supply during COVID-19.

The changes allow those within the Pacific Labour Scheme, Seasonal Worker Program and working holiday makers to continue to work in agriculture and food processing until the coronavirus crisis has passed.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the Government was protecting the health of Australians by supporting businesses, providing job opportunities and securing our food supply.

“We can’t afford to see fruit rotting on trees and vines and vegetables left unpicked. It is vital our farmers maximise their hard work and economic returns,” Minister McCormack said.

“We are acting to enable seasonal workers to extend their stay and remain lawfully in Australia until they are able to return to their home countries.

“The agriculture sector relies on an ongoing workforce and we are committed to providing the means for that to continue while ensuring strict health and safety measures are adhered to, including visa holders following self-isolation requirements when they move between regions.”

Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud said workforce requirements for agriculture change within and across states as different crops are ready for harvest.

“It is essential for our food security that workers can move to meet these seasonal labour needs,” Minister Littleproud said.

“At the same time it is critical we manage this labour force to support the on-going health of regional communities.

“We are working closely with State and Territory Governments and industry to ensure appropriate health controls are in place for the ongoing health and well-being of our regional communities.”

There are tough rules to ensure that COVID-19 is not transported to regional and rural communities that have thankfully not experienced the same level transmission.

Before moving to other parts of the country, working holiday makers will need to self-isolate for 14 days and register at the Australia.gov.au website.  Those who do not comply will face having their visas cancelled.

The National Farmers Federation has developed best practice guidance for farmers regarding requirements for the living and working arrangements for farm workers (either domestic or migrant) during the covid-19 outbreak.

“We have asked the Chief Medical Officer to review these guidelines and it is critical that they are then considered by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee,” Minister Littleproud said.

“Sadly, there’s been a significant number of Australians who’ve lost their jobs due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.

“I know some farmers have seen strong interest from job ads and we are keeping market testing requirements in place to ensure recruitment of Australians first.

“We are well positioned with the decisions we’ve taken today to ensure that critical industries, such as agriculture, are well supported during this time and that Australia remains positioned to produce the food we need.”

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge said agriculture is an essential sector and it relies on temporary visa holders, many who arrive and depart Australia on a seasonal basis.

“These visa holders fill a critical workforce gap in this sector,” Minister Tudge said.

“That is why the Government is putting temporary measures in place to allow important work in the agriculture sector to continue.

“We are giving certainty to our agriculture workforce so they can get food from farms to our shops and ensure critical services continue.”

The conditions under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme visa arrangements will be carried over to the new visa arrangements, continuing the strong links between Pacific seasonal workers and their employers.

These changes complement and are in addition to additional measures for temporary visa holders announced by Minister Tudge.

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