APAL aiming to address workforce availability issuesIndustry Advocacy
APAL is working with state and federal governments and other industry bodies to ensure a timely response to increasing concerns over workforce availability.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced the number of backpackers and seasonal workers in Australia. Compared with the same time last year the number of backpackers and seasonal workers have each declined by more than 30%, with the number of backpackers reduced from 135,000 to around 80,000, and seasonal workers from 12,000 to 8,000. In past years, both programs have provided a major source of harvest labour in February and March. Recent calls for Australian workers to fill the short fall appear very optimistic based on past industry experience.With assistance from state grower bodies, APAL has ensured key labour data has been shared with state and federal governments.
APAL is also focused on:
- Streamlining the travel and quarantine requirements for seasonal workers from the low-COVID-19 Pacific Islands to ensure they can continue to work under the highly successful Seasonal Workers Program
- Continued cooperation between growers, retailers and government to ensure only products produced by ethical employers make it to market – fair work conditions are paramount
- Recognising the demand for seasonal workers is not limited to the harvest period with many needed for other activities across the year
- Working with state grower bodies to understand each state’s circumstances and ensure these are reflected in any national response.
- Encouraging governments to fund incentives and marketing campaigns to encourage locals to take up seasonal work opportunities – especially in the current COVID-19 environment – and at the same time recognising that based on industry experience growers will not be able to rely on this source to fill vacancies.
- Streamlining harvest labour recruitment processes
- Ensure seasonal work is seen as ‘skilled’ rather than unskilled labour
“The availability of labour is certainly the key issue in our industry at the moment,” said APAL Head of Government relations Jeremy Griffith.
“A secure workforce is crucial to orchard operations and with it the affordability and supply of fresh produce for Australian consumers who are already struggling with the financial impacts of COVID-19.
“Our industry has done a great job so far in mitigating the risks of the virus in growing regions, and we’ll continue to ensure this is a priority”.
Workers from COVID-19-free Vanuatu have been brought in under strict quarantine measures for the mango harvest in Northern Territory, and APAL is following this trial closely.
The results of the recent NFF and Hort Innovation workforce surveys will be released as soon as they are available.
To read APAL’s full response to this week’s calls to axe the Working Holiday Maker Program click here.