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The outlook for harvest labour in 2022


Recent developments in the agricultural labour outlook and state and federal responses to the Delta variant have provoked uncertainty for the 2021/22 harvest season. 

Large worker shortfall predicted

Phase 2 of the Seasonal horticulture labour demand and workforce study undertaken by Ernst and Young on behalf of Hort Innovation predicts a labour shortage of between 11,000 and 24,000 workers for the upcoming harvest season. The lack of Working Holidaymakers continues to be an issue. 

The Prime Minister announced on Friday that a further 12,500 workers will enter Australia between now and March 2022 as part of the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP). This will help to address some of the labour shortfall. 

Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud has also announced that the government intends to have the Ag Visa “up and running well before Christmas”. 

However, it is unlikely that any workers will enter Australia on this new visa before the end of 2021. It presents a longer-term solution to the issue of future agricultural labour. 

Quarantine changes

Changes to the Tasmanian hotel quarantine reimbursement will also affect growers in the upcoming harvest season. 

The Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment has announced that for all arrivals entering quarantine after midnight on 31 December 2021 until 30 June 2022, Approved Employers will be reimbursed 50% of the hotel quarantine fee ($1,400 per worker). 

Currently, Approved Employers are reimbursed the full $2,800 hotel quarantine fee. 

This will impact Tasmanian employers who rely on international labour. 

The changes to the Tasmanian quarantine reimbursement will not affect Victorian employers who bring in international workers via the quarantine ‘corridor’ of Tasmania, as the funding support for Victorian employers comes from the Victorian Government. However, as the Victorian Government have reached their initial 1,500 worker maximum, funding will need to be renewed for the part-subsidies to continue.

Expect tight border controls

While the actual guidelines around interstate and regional travel for agricultural workers in the upcoming harvest is uncertain, employers should prepare for strict border controls.  

Under the present restrictions, authorised ag workers can travel to Victoria from NSW, but they need to have a COVID test and self-isolate for two weeks. They are able to work while isolating, but are required to have additional COVID tests. This could change between now and the harvest season, as the situation with the Delta variant develops.  

Vaccination levels will be critical for determining the movement of people and quarantine pathways for both domestic and international agricultural workers in the upcoming harvest season. If Australia’s vaccination rate continues to improve, it is possible that Australian residents who are fully vaccinated will enjoy more free movement between states and regions.  

Ensuring that workers in regional Australia have the resources and incentives to be vaccinated is also important for allowing more free movement while keeping communities safe from the spread of COVID.  

APAL is seeking clarity from state and federal government on potential ‘travel bubbles’ and quarantine pathways, so that employers can plan for the challenges ahead. 

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